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Marijuana’s “Safe” Reputation with Teens Today Could Be Problematic Tomorrow

There’s been a major shift in the general population’s attitude towards marijuana over the past decade due to the medicalization and legalization of the substance across multiple states. Today’s perception, more often than not, is that “it’s natural and helps people, so it must be okay.” Or even worse, some teenagers think it’s good for you—leading to an increase in recreational usage in many states.

This perception is not reality, according to the doctors and addiction specialists at Caron Treatment Centers. “What has happened in this country with marijuana is concerning,” says Dr. Joseph Garbely, the Vice President of Medical Services and Medical Director at Caron. “It used to be perceived as a risky substance, and use was very low—that’s flipped with medical marijuana, so the perception of risk is very low and use of it has skyrocketed.” By legalizing the substance, we’ve normalized recreational use.

But the biggest cause for concern Americans should be aware of is the increased use in teens and young adults, who are at risk for cognitive issues caused by the drug. “A study* just revealed that heavy marijuana smokers have a 6-point drop in IQ,” says Brad Sorte, Executive Vice President & Managing Director of Caron’s Florida Continuum.  “This loss in IQ is never recovered, even if they stop using marijuana as an adult.”  Teens who use marijuana risk causing permanent damage.

Marijuana can also lead to an array of behavioral issues like a decline in school performance, increased risk of anxiety and depression, impaired driving and potential for addiction. This benign outlook teens have towards the substance has increased the drug’s usage in the past decade. Today, 45 percent of 12th graders reported using marijuana and 90 percent of adolescents seeking treatment at Caron are admitted with marijuana as their drug of choice.

As for the medical effects, it is important and critical to be aware of them as well. Dr. Dean Drosnes, the Associate Medical Director at Caron says, “Most recently opioid-use disorder was added to the list of conditions medical marijuana can help,” he says. “This implication—that marijuana may help with opioid abuse—has not been proven by science, and some of these statements are being made in an effort to get the drug studied, but will probably have unintended consequences.” Just two decades ago, opioids were being used to manage pain, now there’s an epidemic. Could marijuana be the next supposed “solution” that worsens addiction in America?

If you’re worried about the behavior of a loved one or if you are worried about yourself, be proactive about having a conversation, gathering information and getting assessed.  Oftentimes individuals who use marijuana may not believe they have a problem, and that might be true, but they really should be assessed especially if the use is interfering with their daily life. Visit caron.org/real

*Meier, M.H.;Caspi, A.; Ambler, A; Harrington, H.L.; Houts, R; Keefe, R.S.E.; McDonald, K; Ward, A; Poulton, R; and Moffitt, T.E. Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America October 2;109 (40): E2657-E2664,2012.