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Tips for doctors and parents on the harms of marijuana use for teens

How should physicians and parents communicate with teens about marijuana use? Stanford adolescent medicine expert Seth Ammerman, MD, offers advice.

As medical and recreational marijuana have become more widely legalized, Stanford adolescent medicine specialist Seth Ammerman, MD, has become increasingly concerned about the effect of the change on teens. "With ongoing legalization, adolescent use may increase because of perceptions of low or no harm, as well as the pervasive advertising and marketing of marijuana products," Ammerman writes in an editorial released this week in American Family Physician.

The editorial gives advice on how physicians should talk to teenagers and their parents about marijuana. Teens' brains are more susceptible to addiction than adult brains, and younger age at first use puts adolescents at higher risk of developing a problem with marijuana use.

The potential ill effects of regular use or marijuana addiction can extend to several areas, including:

... decreased reaction time and impaired motor coordination, leading to higher rates of serious and fatal motor vehicle crashes; poor school and work performance, with higher rates of school dropout; depression and anxiety; psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia in those with a predisposition; and cognitive impairments, such as short-term memory loss and possible IQ decline.

The editorial is accompanied by a tip sheet of practical talking points for parents and teens, including these nuggets:

  • Teens who use marijuana regularly may develop serious mental health disorders, including addiction, depression and psychosis.
  • Never drive under the influence of marijuana or ride in a car with a driver who is under the influence of marijuana.
  • 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.

Efforts to educate teenagers about the harms of tobacco cigarettes can serve as a template for future work to help them understand the damage that marijuana use can cause to the developing brain, the editorial concludes.

Photo by Yoann Boyer

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