Marijuana – 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.


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