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Child & Teen Health
Parents: As more states legalize marijuana, here’s what you need to know and do
- By Claire McCarthy, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing
Follow me on Twitter @drClaire
Recreational use of marijuana was just legalized here in my home state of Massachusetts, and this has led to a lot of interesting conversations as legislators, regulators, and businesspeople try to figure out how to best implement this change.
But the most important conversations about marijuana, in Massachusetts and throughout the country, may be between parents and children.
This week the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a clinical report to help pediatricians and parents talk to teens about marijuana. As it has become legalized in more states, research has shown that fewer teens think of smoking marijuana as risky.
This is often what I hear from teens in my practice. They don’t think of marijuana as a dangerous drug — and the fact that its use was legalized seems to have reinforced the impression that it’s safe.
But it’s not safe.
- impair short-term memory, concentration, attention span, and problem-solving, all of which can get in the way of learning and can also lead to accidents and injuries
- lead to lung damage from inhaling the smoke
- increase the risk of long-term psychiatric problems such as depression or psychosis
- cause long-term problems with memory and executive function, even after use of marijuana has stopped
- lead to addiction — experts say that 9% of those who experiment will become addicted. This number is higher (17%) for those who start in adolescence and even higher (25% to 50%) in teens who smoke marijuana daily.
- cause growth and learning problems in babies whose mothers smoke during pregnancy.
Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s safe. Cigarette smoking is legal, and is linked to many serious health problems. Drinking alcohol is legal, and leads to alcoholism, many health problems, and many serious accidents and injuries.
It’s really important that parents talk to their teens about the risks of marijuana use. It’s also really important that parents be mindful about how their own use of marijuana sets an example and sends a message. Here are the main points that the AAP wants parents to know.
- Because marijuana affects the brain, and because teen brains are still developing, marijuana is particularly dangerous for teens.
- Teens who use marijuana regularly can develop serious mental health problems.
- While marijuana has been legalized in many states for use by people over 21, it’s still illegal for teens, so using it can lead to having a criminal record, which can affect getting into schools or getting jobs.
- Driving under the influence of marijuana is like driving drunk: it’s dangerous and should never happen.
- The smoke of marijuana is toxic, both to the person smoking it and the people around them.
- If parents use marijuana in front of their teens, their teens are more likely to smoke it too. Think before you light up.
- Another thing to think about before you light up: marijuana can impair your ability to make safe judgments for and about your children.
- If parents have any marijuana products, especially things like edibles, they should keep them safely away from children (this is particularly true when there are small children at home).
It’s so important to think about this as a parent — and to talk with your teens, not just once but often, in an ongoing way. Make sure they have the information and strategies they need to make the best and healthiest choices. Make sure that you are making the best choices yourself when it comes to marijuana use, because as a parent, your choices are about more than just you.
About the Author
Claire McCarthy, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing
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No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
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