BY RICK VOAKES, MD
Marijuana, a Dangerous Drug for Kids and Teens
Now that some states are legalizing marijuana, it is making a comeback as a recreational drug for adults, and there will undoubtedly be much more exposure of this drug to children and teens. It is often compared to alcohol as a minimally hazardous drug, however, it is quite a different story for children and teens (even up to age 25). During the period of brain development, which is up to age 25, exposure to marijuana can cause significant brain damage. This is permanent damage, which will stay with the child throughout life.
The symptoms of brain damage from marijuana include impaired short-term memory, decreased attention span and inablity to concentrate (ADHD), and trouble with problem-solving skills (learning disabilities). Another disturbing effect is that on motor skills, giving teens exposed to marijuana some difficult challenges in learning to drive. They have slower reaction time, poor judgment, poor coordination, and difficulty with tracking time (so they have trouble estimating how long it takes a car to stop, for example). All of these could lead to traffic deaths and injuries in these young drivers.
Of course the younger the child, the more susceptible to the adverse effects of marijuana. An alarming trend is the increase in marijuana use among pregnant women. About 1 of 6 newborn babies has detectable marijuana in the blood. Also, more babies and small children are being exposed to marijuana through second-hand smoke. These kids could have many years of exposure, which studies now link to increased risk of psychological illnesses such as depression, psychosis and other mental illnesses.
Teens and young adults who start smoking marijuana risk having a life doomed by poor decision-making skills, and poor judgment. The pre-frontal cortex of the brain (judgment and decision area) is not fully developed until age 25. Damaging this area with marijuana exposure can have life-long consequences.
One last note: marijuana is an addictive drug. 9% of adults who use marijuana become addicted, which increases to 17% among teens who try marijuana.