Emory Healthcare Addiction Service

Marijuana: Is it Safe for Adolescents?

medical marijuanaThere is no doubt that marijuana holds a special place in American pop culture. It frequently appears in Billboard chart-topping songs, in high-profile celebrity Instagram posts, and is even celebrated in yearly festivals. In fact, the movement to legalize marijuana has largely been driven by the public. California was the first to decriminalize marijuana use for medical purposes, followed by Oregon, Alaska and Washington in the late 1990s. The next 20 years witnessed rapid changes in the marijuana legal landscape. Nowadays, legal marijuana is a booming industry estimated to be worth over 10 billion dollars.

Marijuana’s active ingredients are a class of chemical compounds called cannabinoids. The two most well-known cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the principal psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that causes a sensation of euphoria or “high.” CBD, on the other hand, is non-intoxicating and has been used to provide relief from a series of medical conditions, including chronic pain and epilepsy. Products marketed as medical marijuana typically have high amounts of CBD and low THC. The state of Georgia permits patients with a medical marijuana card to possess up to 20 ounces of low-THC cannabis oil. However, possession, sale, or trafficking of whole plant marijuana is strictly prohibited, and doing so can result in felony charges.

So, is marijuana good or bad for your health? The drug Epidiolex® made history by being the first cannabinoid-related product approved by the FDA for certain types of seizure disorders (Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome). It is important to note that this medication has no THC content. While there are documented medical benefits to some marijuana-related products (specifically, CBD for specific seizure disorders), approximately 1 in 6 adolescents who use marijuana long-term will develop a cannabis use disorder. Data also demonstrates that adolescents are uniquely susceptible to the negative effects of marijuana on brain development. Many of the newer strains of marijuana used for recreational purposes have higher THC content than ever before. The use of concentrates, or marijuana-related products that have been condensed into a highly potent THC form, may increase the risk of side effects from THC, including psychosis, paranoia and anxiety. Those who want to quit may face withdrawal symptoms, such as cravings, changes in sleep (sometimes an increase in vivid dreams), irritability and anxiety.

There are also reports of illicitly purchased marijuana that has been laced with substances unknown to buyers, such as fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is driving a spike in U.S. mortality.

We still have much to learn about the potential harms and benefits of marijuana-related products. If you or someone you care about needs professional help for a substance use problem, click the link below to learn more about our services.

Learn more about substance use treatment from Emory Healthcare Addiction Service.


Getting Help for Substance Use in Your 20s

young adults and alcoholIt’s Friday night, and everyone in the dorm is getting ready to go out. Your roommates are pregaming before heading out to the bar. They hand the liquor bottle to you. As the night goes on, you keep getting more and more drinks. The next thing you remember you are waking up in the dorm hallway. This is the fourth time you blacked out this month. At brunch, your friends joke about you being a “lightweight,” and nobody seems bothered by your binge drinking. However, you know something is not right.

Young adults are at particularly high risk for using substances in dangerous ways. More than one-third of college students have engaged in binge drinking (five or more drinks on one occasion) just in the past month. In addition, nearly 1 in 7 U.S. young adults qualifies as having a substance use disorder. Drinking may be viewed as a natural phase of their lives. However, the choices made today can have a huge impact on the future.

As Ben puts it, “Recovery is a life-long journey, and today I’m glad to know that I’m in it.” Ben is one of the many people who has benefited from seeking help early (click for more recovery stories from the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).

It may be hard for people in their early 20s to realize that their substance use is a problem before their family or friends get involved. Some may even try to abruptly quit using substances as a way to keep things discrete. But even after potentially experiencing highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, they are still faced with a high likelihood of relapse.

Hundreds of thousands of young adults struggling with addiction have benefited from treatment on their journey to recovery. If you or someone you know is having problems with substance use and needs professional help, click the link below to learn more about our services.

Learn more about substance use treatment from Emory Healthcare Addiction Service.

When Your Young Adult is Using Drugs

Substance use treatment for young adultsSusan counts the pills in her oxycodone bottle again. It confirms her suspicion. She’s been running out faster than before, even though she is taking them precisely how her doctor instructed. Susan has noticed that her 19-year-old son has been using the master bathroom instead of the one next to his room. He becomes furious when she asks if he knows anything about the missing pills. A few days later, Susan finds a bag of unknown medications in his coat pocket. When asked, he says they are for some allergies he recently developed. Susan can tell he isn’t being truthful. She has read about the opioid crisis. The thought that her son might be caught up in it is deeply distressing. What can she do?

Every year, thousands of parents are concerned about their child’s substance use. Young adults are at particularly high risk for using substances in dangerous and potentially lethal ways. In 2017, 14.8% of U.S. young adults qualified for a substance use disorder diagnosis. Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opioids (including heroin and pain relievers) are among the most commonly used. To make matters worse, young adults often do not realize, or are in denial of, their addiction problems. Many rationalize their use by comparing themselves to other substance-using peers. Unfortunately, young adults will often only volunteer to enter treatment after a negative life event that was associated with their substance use, or are encouraged to by their family members.

As parents, you can play a pivotal role in your child’s recovery. Studies show that patients whose families are involved in their substance use treatment fare better when compared to those who face addiction on their own. Young adults are often still living with or financially dependent on their families. Parents and family members are also typically the first ones to notice unusual behaviors.

“Parents of young adults often feel stuck. They want to help their child, but also give them space to learn and make mistakes on their own. When it comes to worrisome drug use, we often encourage parents to at least facilitate some type of clinical assessment. A plan can then be developed that promotes healthier behaviors while maintaining a degree of autonomy for the young adult.”—Dr. Justine W. Welsh, Addiction Psychiatrist

Young adults can be initially resistant to specialized care for substance use. Trained clinicians can work with you to develop a plan to engage your child in treatment. Every approach is individualized, taking into account what has and hasn’t worked for your family.

If your child is having substance use problems and needs professional help, click the link below to learn more about our services.

Learn more about substance use treatment from Emory Healthcare Addiction Service.