Health and Wellness
Each week, one of our community partners, Dr. Moe Gelbart generously volunteers his time to provide information for our community related to wellness. Dr. Gelbart is the Executive Director of Thelma McMillen Center in Torrance.
MYTHS CONCERNING MARIJUANA USE FOR TEENAGERS
The legalization of marijuana (MJ) in California has taken a difficult situation, and complicated it, especially for teenagers. At the Thelma McMillen center, working with teens to consider their marijuana difficulties is among the most difficult thing we experience. Many teens are what I call “Nobel Prize” winners in MJ, that is they research it, and seemingly know everything about it, and can argue one out of any position designed to point out the harm in use. Of course, they only focus on google hits that confirm their already entrenched beliefs, and reject others out of hand. When confronted with the need to stop using, they endorse things like: it’s natural, an herb, found in nature; the generation of the 60’s/70’s (their parents) used it with no problem; it has medicinal value; it is not addicting, and, most recently….IT IS LEGAL!
Let’s explore some of the myths. Much of this information is found in the book Reefer Sanity, Seven Great Myths About Marijuana, by Kevin A. Sabet, PhD.
Myth 1: Marijuana is harmless, and non addictive. The reality is MJ is addicting. 1 in 6 teens will experience significant dependency on or abuse of MJ. The developing teenage brain is susceptible to significant psychological craving and addiction of MJ. Using criteria of progressive use, inability to stop, and experiencing negative consequences , marijuana is considered an addictive substance. In addition, the potency of today’s MJ is 5-10 times stronger than it was when popularized in the 60’s, leading to a host of serious problems. We see emergency admissions double due to cannabis related problems. Methods of use, like edibles and vaping, combined with higher THC levels, lead to increases in episodes of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, psychosis, and schizophrenia. There are also negative health effects – MJ is carcinogenic – and negative impacts on productivity, learning, grades, and overall drive and ambition.
Myth 2: Marijuana is medically beneficial. There are medical benefits to MJ, but they are very specific to particular problems, and not the panacea that is advertised by those who endorse use. Very simply put, the medicinal benefits from MJ come primarily from cannabinoid properties, while it is the Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which produces the euphoric feelings of getting high. Although teens may complain of anxiety, insomnia, pain or other vague issues that they medicate with MJ, they are really seeking the high of the THC, and would reject a medicinal form of MJ that did not include that.
Myth 3: Everyone uses Marijuana. Although your child may tell you this, they are only minimally correct. While almost half of high school seniors have tried MJ, 20% of seniors, 15%
of 10th graders, and 7% of 8th graders report monthly use of MJ. While those figures are way too much, it is not true that “everyone” uses.
Myth 4: If it were bad for you, it wouldn’t be legal and physicians wouldn’t prescribe it. The legalization of MJ has given some teens validation of their belief that MJ is safe, and not a problem to use recreationally. I believe the jury is still out as to the negative effects of legalizing MJ. There are reports from other states and countries that legalizing MJ has led to an increase in use among teenagers. There are more issues related to traffic accidents. It is very difficult to determine when one is driving under the influence, and what the safe level of MJ in the system is. Even more complicating is that MJ is stored in the fat cells, and remains in the system 30-60 days. As for physician prescriptions, there are very strict rules for when a physician should dispense MJ (in fact, it is , technically, a federal crime to do so). Most of the dispensaries “dispense” without the appropriate criteria and use.
In summary, as society struggles with the moral and political complications of whether or not to make marijuana legal, it is important as parents to know that it is a very harmful substance for our teenagers, particularly in light of brain development issues and that negative consequences will impact them for a long time.
Remember, if you have issues you would like to see addressed, please email me at email@example.com.
Moe Gelbart, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Thelma McMillen Center