With this week’s election, Massachusetts joins the ranks of states legalizing medical marijuana. For many people, the vote marks the end of the discussion. For parents, however, it should be only the beginning, or perhaps the continuation, of a very important conversation that stresses one message – for the developing adolescent brain, marijuana can be extremely dangerous. (I keep thinking about the landmark New Zealand study showing that adolescents who regularly smoke marijuana lose an average of eight IQ points by adulthood, an irreversible cognitive deficit.)
The article in yesterday’s Boston Globe points out some of the inherent pitfallsin the new law, which is set to take affect on January 1. Perhaps the most troubling “big picture” issue is that of setting stringent guidelines and monitoring, tasks that the state’s already overwhelmed Department of Public Health may not be properly equipped to perform at this time. But the more insidious issue is the message it sends kids -- that marijuana is “medicine” and therefore safe.
Like most medicines, in the right situation, certain chemical combinations can provide immeasurable benefits, and anecdotally, marijuana has the potential to offer immense relief for a variety of conditions, often with less toxic side effects than many FDA approved drugs. But for the developing adolescent trying to self-medicate for stress or depression, or simply looking for a mellow “high,” casual marijuana use can easily escalate into regular use. (Locally, one in four students who try marijuana go on to become heavy users). And that’s when the more than 400 chemicals in marijuana (including twice the amount of THC in baby-boomers’ weed) can have long-term damaging effects on the young, still developing brain.
All this is further complicated by national news, with two states – Colorado and Washington – legalizing marijuana (possession of up to an ounce) for recreational use, permitting marijuana to be sold and taxed at state-licensed stores. Thankfully, the caveat is that it is legal for those 21 years old and older, but teens are bound to think, “How bad can it be?” As parents, we have to be prepared to say, “It can be really dangerous, and here’s why.” (For more information, including fact sheets and resource lists, visit the “Marijuana” section of www.B-PEN.org )