Let's Talk about Marijuana


Marijuana, MJ, Mary Jane, cannabis, chronic, pot, weed, grass, Ganga,…there are dozens of nicknames for the psychoactive plant.  While marijuana is considered a controlled substance at the federal and state leves, in recent years several states (not including Tennessee) have passed legislation to make it legally available for medical and recreational use. 

What is it?

Marijuana is one of the most widely used illegal drugs in the United States. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, gives the plant its psychoactive component. Because of its medicinal use for various chronic ailments, marijuana is sometimes perceived as harmless. However, its use can impact a person’s perception and judgment. Over time chronic use can also contribute to a variety of social problems.

Marijuana and adolescents

·         For a lot of teenagers smoking weed is often considered a “soft drug” and thought of as a rite of passage, no more dangerous than taking their first drink of beer or wine. However, many studies (including one by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine) warn against the dangers of marijuana use, especially in adolescence. Adolescents who use marijuana often have a hard time concentrating, remembering things, and solving problems. Using marijuana frequently often causes grades to drop, and those who use marijuana regularly often lose interest in school and may quit.

·         Marijuana interferes with judgment, motor skills, and reaction time and coordination. Teens who drive or take other risks after smoking marijuana are much more likely to be injured or killed.​

·         Teens who use marijuana are more likely to take sexual risks and have unwanted or unprotected sex.

·         Teens' bodies and brains are still growing and developing. Inhaling the smoke can cause lung problems. The age of the person using pot is also an important factor. Medical experts say the risk of certain health effects from marijuana use increase the younger the user is. New research shows that marijuana use by adolescents and young adults can lead to permanent problems with memory, learning and thinking.

·         Studies have shown that marijuana use in adolescence can be a contributing factor in triggering or worsening the symptoms of psychotic mental illnesses, most often schizophrenia.

·         Marijuana is an addictive drug. Just like with alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs, teens who smoke marijuana can lose control over their use and become addicted. Younger users, whose brains are still developing, are also more likely to become addicted to the drug.  

Marijuana and medical treatment

The use of cannabis to treat epilepsy and other neurological conditions has been studied for a number of years. It has been hotly debated too. In 2018 the FDA approved the use of Epidiolex, a cannabidiol, to treat seizures for patients 2-years-old and older with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), two rare and severe forms of epilepsy.

In Tennessee, lawmakers introduced a bill in February that would allow Tennesseans who suffer from a variety of ailments to use medical marijuana. The legislation would not permit the recreational use of the plant throughout the state but it would allow anyone under the age of 18 who is suffering from the following conditions to use medical marijuana;

·         cerebral palsy

·         cystic fibrosis

·         osteogenesis imperfecta

·         muscular dystrophy

·         terminal conditions

·         additional conditions approved by a State commission

As this bill is considered by the General Assembly it is subject to likely several amendments. Previous efforts in Tennessee to legalize medical marijuana have failed due to the lack of support.  

What can parents do?

Parents are their children’s first and best protection against drug use. Take these steps from the American Academy of Pediatrics to help prevent your child from becoming interested in using marijuana or other drugs:

·         Set high expectations and clear limits. Let your child know that you expect them not to use drugs. Teach them healthy values that are important to your family and to use these values when deciding what is right and wrong.

·         Talk with your child about the dangers of drug use, including marijuana. Young people often do not know the facts about drugs and may try drugs just to see what they are like. Start talking with your child at an early age about the dangers of drug use. Encourage them to ask questions and tell you about their concerns. Be sure to really listen. Do not lecture or do all the talking. Ask what they think about drug use and its risks.

·         Use teachable moments. Discuss car accidents and other tragedies that are caused by drug use and are in the news or your child's life.

·         Help your child handle peer pressure. Peers and others can strongly influence young people to try drugs. As a parent, your influence can be even stronger in helping your child learn to be confident, make healthy choices, and resist unhealthy peer preasure. Tell them that it is OK to say "no!" to risky behaviors and mean what they say. Help them find and spend time enjoying positive interests that build self-esteem.

·         Help your child deal with emotions. Especially during the teen years, many young people face strong emotions for the first time. Teens sometimes get depressed or anxious and might consider drug use to try to escape these feelings and forget problems. Explain that everyone has these feelings at times, so it is important for each person to learn how to express their feelings, cope with them, and face stressors in healthy ways that can help prevent or resolve problems.

·         Set a good example. Avoid using tobacco and illicit drugs. Minimize alcohol use, and always avoid drinking and driving. Be a good role model in the ways you express, control, and relieve stress, pain, or tension. Actions do speak louder than words!

·         Get a professional evaluation. If you think your child is using drugs, tell your child's doctor your exact concerns.

Marijuana Use During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

A growing number of women are using marijuana while pregnant or breastfeeding. Some women may read false claims on the internet that marijuana is safe to use for morning sickness during pregnancy. However, medical experts state that marijuana is not safe to use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. THC has been shown to cross the placenta and enter the brain of the developing fetus during pregnancy. Breastfeeding moms should also avoid marijuana. THC can pass from mom to her baby via her breastmilk. Also, a mom’s ability to care for an infant may be impaired if marijuana is being used.

TN Fast Facts:

In Fiscal Year 2017, marijuana was the 3rd most prevalent substance of abuse among people accessing publicly-funded treatment and recovery services through the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.  This dashboard shows the concentration of services across the state. 

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