LAS CRUCES – Though marijuana, or cannabis, is legal for medical use in New Mexico, pediatricians and medical researchers have concerns over the effect the drug has on the developing brains of youth.
“The challenge is understanding the direct and indirect effect marijuana has on the adolescent brain,” said Dr. Scott Cyrus, D.O., FACOP, and a professor and founding chief of the Division of Pediatrics at the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine in Las Cruces.
“The brain doesn’t stop developing until the mid-twenties, and marijuana use by youth tends to indirectly affect cognition and a child’s ability and desire to learn,” Cyrus said. “The advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics and myself is for youth to avoid the use of marijuana, and any illicit drug, because of its impact on learning.”
National Institutes on Drug Abuse research has shown some evidence indicating that beginning marijuana use in adolescence may lead to cannabis use disorder in adulthood.
“Marijuana use impairs adolescents’ brains’ ability to make decisions, sustain attention, keep thoughts in working memory, and to remember. All those abilities are important for a successful adulthood,” notes Dr. Michael Bohn, an assistant professor and researcher in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Science at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Bohn expressed concern over the increased toxicity and potency of the marijuana available today, which has a higher percent of tetrahydrocannabinol than we have seen in the past. THC is the main psychoactive compound that produces the “high” sensation.
“It’s a much more potent form than what was available 20 or 30 years ago,” Bohn said. “The concentration of THC is now at least five to 10 times more potent. That is very different from the marijuana with three to four percent THC that was studied in the 1980s.”
The way marijuana and tobacco are ingested has also changed in the last decade. E-cigarettes, or vaping, have introduced a new generation to “smoking” — with dire consequences.
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“The liquid that goes into electronic cigarettes can be deadly if consumed by children,” said Cyrus. “The flavors introduced into the market (are) an enticement to get children hooked on the flavor and nicotine. It’s not a safe or recommended alternative to smoking.”
The newly diagnosed e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury has been reported in all 50 states, and two U.S. territories, with a total of 2,807 cases and 68 confirmed deaths.
EVALI has been tied to e-cigarette products containing THC, the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana, and the vitamin E acetate some products use to transfer the drug to the body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people not use THC-containing e-cigarettes, or vaping, products due to the potential risk of developing EVALI.
In New Mexico, there has been a surge in e-cigarette use by youth. The most recent survey, from 2015 to 2019, found a 42 percent increase in e-cigarettes use or vaping by youth. This study preceded New Mexico’s recently passed law prohibiting tobacco sales to anyone under the age of 21.
If you suspect your child is using marijuana or other drugs, both doctors quoted in this article advise avoiding a harsh confrontation with the child. Instead, they suggest expressing concern over the behavioral changes you have seen and offer support and information about the drugs’ impact on the child’s life.
“The biggest thing is open communication,” Cyrus added. “Talk to them before you suspect or before they do it, engage in community activities that include prevention, and let kids know what the concerns are, and the emotional and physical impacts are of using marijuana. Most important, let kids openly express their thoughts.”
NIDA is the lead federal agency supporting scientific research on drug use and its consequences. Visit their website drugabuse.gov for an in-depth look at their research.
Both doctors recommend educational materials available at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, which has launched an online site specifically for information on the risks of marijuana at http://samhsa.gov/know-risks-marijuana.
For more information, contact the Unified Prevention Coalition for Doña Ana County at 575-597-0042 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This news release is made available by the Unified Prevention (UP!) Coalition for Doña Ana County, a program of the Center for Health Innovation.
More from the UP! Coalition:
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