In just a few short months, recreational marijuana will become legal in the state of Illinois. Although purchase will be restricted to those over 21 years of age, the reality is that, just like with alcohol, many teens will be exposed to this drug. In fact, 38% of high school students have used marijuana at least once.
While many people consider marijuana less dangerous than alcohol, it’s important to understand that the marijuana being sold and consumed today has little in common with the marijuana of previous generations. It has been bred and processed to contain two to three times more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the substance that induces the “high” and which carries real risks, especially to the developing health of our teens.
Alzein Pediatrics is here to help you understand what those risks are and help you start a conversation with your kids about marijuana.
Most importantly – your child’s brain isn’t fully developed until about the age of 26, which means that any mind-altering substance they take will have a long-term effect, essentially rewiring the brain. The earlier a child begins using marijuana, the greater the damage they will do.
Studies show marijuana use causes:
• Difficulty in concentration and problem solving
• Problems with learning and memory
• Lower intelligence and poor academic performance
• Damaged executive functioning leading to an increase in risky behaviors including using other drugs and alcohol and dangerous sexual behaviors
• Increased risk of anxiety, depression, suicide and psychosis such as schizophrenia
• Impaired physical ability, balance and coordination
Physical damage to your teen’s body can include:
• Coughing, wheezing and respiratory problems
• Increased risk of lung cancer
• Increased heart rate, increasing the risk of heart attack
About 10% of marijuana users become physically addicted, setting them up for a lifetime of mental health problems, financial insecurity and social isolation.
Marijuana is not regulated by the FDA for purity, safety, ingredients or strength. While it may be “natural”, that doesn’t mean it’s safe.
You might not smell marijuana on your child as it can be vaped, eaten in a baked good or candy, drunk in a beverage or taken in through the skin using oils and tinctures. Pay attention to your child’s behavior instead of your nose. Signs of marijuana use include:
• Increased irritability, anger or mood swings
• Loss of interest and motivation for schoolwork, hobbies, athletics and clubs
• Associating with peers whom you suspect or know are using marijuana
• Acting out of character, laughter and silliness
• Forgetting what just happened a moment ago
• Carrying lighters, plastic bags, vape pens
• Red eyes
• Change in appetite and increased snacking
Ideally, conversations with your children about drugs and alcohol should start very early, when they are in elementary school. Start by asking what your teen or child has heard and thinks about marijuana. Give your teen time to answer completely, without interruption or judgement. Explain the facts about marijuana’s effect on the body and brain, and the risks people take when they use any type of mind-altering substance. Stress the timeline of brain development and how marijuana use now will negatively and powerfully impact their future. If you have your own experiences with drugs, understand that, with the exponentially strengthened potency of today’s marijuana, the effect you experienced would be dramatically different for your child. Do not minimize the dangers of today’s marijuana.
Talking honestly with your children as soon as possible, especially with the upcoming legalization, is vital to healthy brain development and mental health.
If you have any questions about having this conversation, if you’d like your Alzein medical professional to weigh in, or if you suspect your child already has a marijuana or substance abuse problem, make an appointment. You can click here, reply to this email or call 708-424-7600. We are happy to help!