A growing body of evidence indicates that marijuana can cause major psychiatric problems in some users, both adult and children. For some, using marijuana can cause permanent psychosis and a lifetime of mental illness. Growing up is hard enough without the added burden of mental illness. Tweens and teens face a number of challenges as they navigate their formative years; achieving academic success, developing a healthy body image, building healthy relationships with friends and family, and avoiding the temptations to explore destructive behaviors to mention a few. Unfortunately, despite ubiquitous awareness programs, marijuana use continues to be used by a large proportion of our population.
Mental health experts have recently identified that extended marijuana use can lead to serious psychiatric illness, most notably in those who are genetically susceptible. Think back to your high school days. How many times did you hear, “Everyone is doing it” and the classic, “Go ahead, you’re going to feel so cool.” Of course, school drug programs told you to stand up and say “NO!” but we now know that if you became a regular user, your reward according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) in the United Kingdom, was a “doubling of your risk of developing a permanent psychotic episode such as long-term schizophrenia, particularly in those children smoking marijuana before the age of 15 years.
How can a little marijuana be so destructive to a teen, you ask? As many of us remember, the teenage mind constantly undergoes questioning and self-discovery. Likewise, the brain continues to transform itself, through age 20, into a more organized and mature adult brain. Repetitive marijuana use can adversely affect this development, leading to increased susceptibility to psychiatric illness. About 15% of our population of teens carry a genetic susceptibility that triggers their psychosis from marijuana use. Recent research identifies that a family history of mental illness, combined with marijuana use, increases the risk of developing schizophrenia or depression.
How we should communicate these dangers to the future adults that you call your children? Of course, the short answer is being blunt and honest. Don’t be afraid to talk about his subject with your tweens and teens. These discussions are particularly crucial since many in the media are busy trying to convince everyone, including your children, that marijuana is harmless and good for them! Parents must explain the mental dangers of marijuana to reinforce why they have no place in their child’s life. Successful drug education begins in the home with frank conversations, keeping children busy with healthy challenging activities, and by parents setting a good example of substance abuse free living.
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Written by Norman Spencer and Paul Smolen M.D.