By Ashtin Morio, Hanley Foundation Prevention Specialist

You may have heard the misconception that marijuana is safer than cigarettes. You may have even heard that medical marijuana is just like other medicine.

However, we have learned that these are common misconceptions, especially among the adolescent and young adult populations. So, what are the health effects of using marijuana and why is it not safer than smoking cigarettes?

The adverse effects of marijuana include:

1.) Use of marijuana can lead to a substance use disorder, which can cause various physical, mental and social problems. In fact, 1 in 10 people who use marijuana become addicted. And, those who start using before age 18 have a 1 in 6 chance of becoming addicted (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018).

2.) An adolescent’s brain continues to develop until the age of twenty-five. When teens regularly use marijuana, it can alter brain development and “impair thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions” (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019). In addition, the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC (the psychoactive part of the drug), found in marijuana products has been increasing in recent years, which could cause increased harm to the brain and its ability to function.

3.) Smoke from marijuana has been found to contain some of the toxins, irritants and carcinogens that can also be found in cigarette smoke (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). These chemicals can harm the lungs and cardiovascular system (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018).

4.) Poisoning is another physical risk from marijuana use. When individuals ingest products, like foods and drinks, that contain marijuana, they run the risk of having too much THC in their system. There have been cases in which individuals, especially adolescents, end up in the emergency room due to cannabis poisoning (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018).

5.) People who have long-term marijuana use also run the risk of developing Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, which causes “regular cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration, sometimes requiring emergency medical attention” (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019).

6.) Finally, marijuana use has been linked to multiple mental health problems. Some of these mental health effects include hallucinations, paranoia, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and worsening symptoms of schizophrenia (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019).

Now, you might still be wondering, “well, what about medical marijuana?” When discussing medical marijuana, it is important to note that it is not intended to be a cure for a condition. Medical marijuana must be prescribed by a doctor and is used for pain or nausea management for chronic conditions and cancer treatments.

For example, if someone were to break their arm, they would take a pain medication. The pain medication would not cure the broken arm, it would simply be used to help relieve the pain. Medical marijuana works in the same way. Just like any other medication, individuals still need to keep in mind the side effects that could occur from medical marijuana use, even if it is helping with their pain.

The safety of marijuana use is a hot topic that we continue to talk about and see in the media. With changing laws and increased access to marijuana products, it is important to stay informed on the effects it can have on your child’s health. Talking to your children about marijuana can be hard but being prepared makes the process so much easier.

Some ideas on how to talk with your kids about marijuana (Source- Partnership for Drug-Free Kids):

  • Stay updated on marijuana information and laws
  • Keep an open mind
  • Put yourself in your kid’s shoes
  • Be clear about your goals
  • Stay calm and relaxed
  • Stay positive
  • Don’t lecture
  • Find a comfortable setting
  • Be aware of body language

Start the conversation about marijuana with your kids at an early age before they are put into a position to use. If they are already using, make sure your child understands the facts, and try to understand why they are using. This will allow you to let them know you are concerned, and it will help you find out if there is a deeper issue going on (Children’s Hospital Colorado). It’s important to note that if you are not talking with your kids about marijuana, someone else is, and they might not be providing them with the correct information to make healthy choices.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, February 27). Marijuana and Public Health. Retrieved June 25, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/health-effects.html

Children’s Hospital Colorado. (n.d.). Talk to Kids About Marijuana. Retrieved June 26, 2020, from https://www.childrenscolorado.org/conditions-and-advice/marijuana-what-parents-need-to-know/talking-to-kids-about-marijuana/

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, December). Marijuana DrugFacts. Retrieved June 24, 2020, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana    Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. (n.d.). How to Talk about Marijuana with Your Son or Daughter. Retrieved June 26, 2020, from https://drugfree.org/article/how-to-talk-about-marijuana/