Academy of Pediatrics report calls on doctors to help protect patients’
developing brains and bodies from the health harms of marijuana amid increased
Elk Grove Village, IL – With marijuana now legal for
recreation or medical use in a majority of states—and access and attitudes
toward it relaxing as a result—a new American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
clinical report in the March 2017 Pediatrics equips doctors to advise
patients and parents about harms the drug can cause, particularly for teens.
The report, “Counseling Parents and Teens About Marijuana Use in the Era of Legalization of Marijuana
” (published online Feb. 27),
highlights the dangers of a climate in which the drug increasingly is seen as
acceptable, safe and therapeutic.
Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia allow
medical or recreational marijuana use. Although the laws are aimed at adults
over age 21, the increased availability of marijuana in the community can
create short- and long-term harm to youths, according to the AAP.
“Marijuana is not a benign drug, especially for teens. Their
brains are still developing, and marijuana can cause abnormal and unhealthy
changes,” said Seth D. Ammerman, MD, FAAP, co-author of the AAP clinical report
and former AAP Committee on Substance Use and Prevention Committee member.
Adolescents who use marijuana regularly can develop serious
mental health disorders such as addiction, depression and psychosis. Marijuana
causes dulled sensory awareness, motor control, coordination, judgment and
reaction time, all of which can cause accidents involving teens who drive.
Marijuana can impair lung function. It also causes decreased short-term memory
and concentration, attention span and problem-solving skills, which can
interfere with learning.
In the past few decades, the concentration of
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance in marijuana plants, has
increased considerably. Research shows it rose from roughly 4 percent in
1995 to 12 percent in 2014, and current strains contain concentrations as much
as 20 percent-- increasing the risk of overdose and addiction.
Overall, 9 percent of people experimenting with marijuana
become addicted. That percentage increases to 17 percent among people who began
using marijuana in adolescence, and to 50 percent among teens who smoke
Despite this, the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services’ National Survey on Drug Use and Health found the percentage of 12- to
17-year-olds who perceive “great risk” in smoking marijuana once or twice a
week dropped from 55 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in 2015. The same
survey linked decreases in perceived risk with increases in use.
Studies have found THC may be helpful for adults in reducing
side effects of chemotherapy or pain from certain chronic conditions. But the
AAP asks pediatricians to help counteract the perception that marijuana use is
therefore “harmless” – especially for teens. The AAP recommends pediatricians
offer guidance during office visits, and advise parents against using marijuana
around their children.
“Parents who use marijuana themselves may not fully realize
the effect this can have on their children,” said Sheryl A. Ryan, MD, FAAP,
lead author of the clinical report and chairperson of the AAP Committee on
Substance Use and Prevention. “Seeing parents use marijuana makes kids more
likely to use it themselves, whether or not their parents tell them not to,
because actions speak louder than words,” she said.
Parents who use marijuana at home also expose their children
to secondhand smoke, Ryan said, or accidental pot poisoning from an increasing
array of edible marijuana products such as pot-infused candies, baked goods and
beverages that contain high amounts of THC yet are often indistinguishable from
In addition, being “high” on marijuana interferes with a
parent’s ability provide a safe environment, especially for younger children,
Dr. Ryan said.
The AAP urges pediatricians screen adolescents and preteens
for substance use, offering interventions and treatment referrals and
motivational reinforcement techniques to abstain and resist peer pressure.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org
and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds.