Pediatricians To Parents: Keep The Weed Away From Kids

No matter how accepted marijuana is for adults, pediatricians say it's still a danger to teenagers

Photo Illustration: Vocativ
Feb 27, 2017 at 6:15 PM ET

Pot may be on the cusp of mainstream acceptance, but at least one group of doctors isn’t so happy about it.

On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a report advising its doctors on how to ward kids away from marijuana in a country that’s increasingly okay with making it legal for adults. Among other highlights, the report advocates discouraging parents from toking up in front of their kids or even discussing their past use of pot with them, lest they subtly stoke curiosity. And though it acknowledges that marijuana may have a bright future in medicine, the report stops short at promoting it to the young.

“Marijuana is not a benign drug, especially for teens. Their brains are still developing, and marijuana can cause abnormal and unhealthy changes,” said report co-author Dr. Seth D. Ammerman, a former member of the AAP’s Committee on Substance Use and Prevention, in a statement released by the organization.

These changes, according to the report, include short- and possibly long-term harm to teens’ memory, attention, and coordination. And while the cannabinoids found in marijuana aren’t physically addictive in the same way that nicotine can be, the report notes that a slice of users can still get mentally hooked to pot. These risks only shoot up the younger someone is when they first start using marijuana, the report added. At the same time, marijuana has been getting more potent, with the typical plant containing more much THC — the active ingredient responsible for the titular high — now than in previous decades.

There’s also every indication that kids are becoming desensitized to the stigma of marijuana. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health has found a steady decline in the percentage of 12- to 17-year olds who saw smoking marijuana one to two times weekly as a “great risk,” from 55 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in 2015. And there’s an established if obvious relationship between greater reported marijuana use within a state and its cultural acceptance, which in turn may spark more kids to light up.

Currently, medical marijuana has been legalized in 29 states, though only 8 states have done so for recreational use. And even as the Trump administration has cryptically warned that it may try to crack down on pot, the overall trend nationwide still points to more, not less decriminalization in the near-future.

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But though some studies have shown that teens living in states with medical marijuana laws report more pot use than teens living in states without them, other research has suggested these state differences existed before the laws were enacted. And the overall popularity of pot among kids is a bit muddled.

Last December, the National Institutes of Health published its own research showing that many of today’s kids are using less drugs than ever before, including pot. According to their survey data, marijuana use has declined among eighth and tenth graders compared to five years ago. And though the same portion of twelfth graders, six percent, reported using pot daily in 2016 as they did back then, the groundswell of marijuana legalization in recent years seemingly hasn’t moved the needle at all.

Whatever the case may be, it’s tough to blame pediatricians for wanting to keep drugs out of their patients’ hands for as long as possible. In addition to counseling parents, the AAP report also asks doctors to reach out to teens and nonjudgmentally ease them away from considering pot use — at least until they’re old enough to legally make the choice for themselves.