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Stanford University School of Medicine

Is marijuana safe for teens? American Academy of Pediatrics says no

teen-exhaleMarijuana use isn't safe for teenagers, and pediatricians need to be ready to explain why, according to a new clinical report published this week by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Stanford adolescent medicine specialist Seth Ammerman, MD, co-authored the report to help doctors navigate conversations with patients and parents who may increasingly view marijuana as benign. The report briefly summarizes the scientific evidence for problems that marijuana can cause in the developing brain, which include -- for long-term users who start as teens -- cognitive deficits that don't recover in adulthood, even after drug use stops.

The new report also gives several talking points for doctors to use with teens and parents, such as:

  • Teens who use marijuana regularly may develop serious mental health disorders, including addiction, depression and psychosis.
  • Marijuana smoke is toxic, similar to secondhand tobacco smoke. The use of vaporizers or hookahs does not eliminate the toxic chemicals in marijuana smoke.
  • For parents: You are role models for your children, and actions speak louder than words. So if you use marijuana in front of your teens, they are more likely to use it themselves, regardless of whether you tell them not to.
  • For parents: If your child asks you directly whether you have used marijuana, a brief, honest answer may help the child feel comfortable talking with you about drug use issues. However, it is best to not share your own histories of drug use with your children. Rather, discussion of drug use scenarios, in general, may be a more helpful approach.

On the last point, Ammerman told MedPage today: "It's like the sex thing... Talk about it in general. Your kids aren't going to benefit from discussing the nitty gritty of your sex life with them."

For teens who are already using marijuana, the report also gives doctors advice on how to assess whether their patients' level of use is problematic and brief interventions that may help them stop.

"Pediatricians are in a unique position to provide parents and teenagers with accurate information and counseling regarding the consequences of marijuana or cannabis use by children, teenagers and adults," the report concludes.

Previously: The health effects of legalizing marijuana: A Q&A with a Stanford drug policy specialist, Saliva test may help identify marijuana-impaired drivers and Teens' beliefs about marijuana documented in new Stanford study
Photo by Savannah Roberts

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