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Marijuana and Teens

by Tom Seman MD FAAP September 13th, 2019 | Pediatrician on Call
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How does marijuana affect a growing teen?

Marijuana, cannabis, pot, weed, or herb are all names of the same plant that is used for its mind altering effects. Rapidly increasing in the teen population over the last several decades, more than half of high school seniors report using marijuana at least once with approximately a quarter of them reporting use in the last month.

A study out of Yale, published this month, showed that over 1/3 of teens that smoke marijuana abused prescription opiates. As such marijuana, along with alcohol and tobacco, is listed as a gateway drug.

The effect on the body are numerous and involve nearly every system. So let’s start from head to toe.

The brain contains an area that controls many of the functions of the body via hormones. In this area, known as the pituitary gland, marijuana disrupted the production and regulation of hormone production.This change in regulation, although not changing the timing of puberty, does decrease sperm production, and it alters ovulation and testosterone production often causing breast growth in men known asgynecomastia.

Furthermore, studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between developing anxiety and marijuana use. A study has children answer a questionnaire over the years between middle school and the end of high school. Those who smoked marijuana had a statistical increase in anxiety and depression symptoms. Chronic use can even demonstrate decreased attention and maintenance of goal directed thoughts and  behavior, thereby decreasing the ability of the individual to maintain a long-term program or job.  And all of this is occurring during a time when the human body is developing at a rate that is only surpassed by an infant.

Like tobacco, marijuana is inhaled after it is burned. Although the initial reactionin the lungs is to open up, bronchodilate, more smoke and particulate matter enters the lungs causing irritation, swelling, and increased mucus production. This causes coughing and the mucus causes increased difficulty with activities. Furthermore, the increased damage, like tobacco, can cause neoplastic change cancers.

Although there is a use for medical marijuana for nausea associated with some cancer treatments and chronic pain from end stage diseases, the major gastrointestinal issue is the “munchies” that occur when a person is smoking. The lack of control and desire or poor food choices causes weight gain, and general gastrointestinal upset once the effects of the drug wear off. Poor diet, decreased activity with a lack of motivation, as stated above, causes other poor lifestyle choices. Some evidence indicates that chronic use of marijuana decreases circulating immunoglobulins-antibodies, thus increasing the risk of infectious illness.

So when talking to your children about marijuana, let them know that its use is more than a hour or so “high.” There are lifelong consequences in most all systems of the body that can result in problems for a lot longer than that.

For more information there are numerous local resources for drug abuse. Contact your community hospital,WebMD, or review the articles in the Journal of School Health and Journal of Adolescent Health.

 

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All health and medical information is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to replace the medical advice or treatment of your healthcare professional.