Pediatricians want parents to know: The incredibly potent pot your kid is smoking isn’t the mellow weed you remember

Parents, it’s your turn.
Parents, it’s your turn.
Image: REUTERS/Ben Nelms
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In the US, legalization and the growing industry for medical and recreational marijuana have paved the way for dramatically more potent pot than the contraband stuff that older generations recall from their youth. That’s why pediatricians are warning parents: This stuff isn’t for everyone.

Parents may indulge themselves—or have fond memories of getting high in their youth—but they should still treat childhood and teen marijuana use as a serious problem, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report released yesterday.

“Parents also should not feel that they have to share all of their experiences with their children or that they cannot voice disapproval of their teen’s use because they have used marijuana themselves,” said Sheryl A. Ryan, lead author of the report and chairperson of the AAP Committee on Substance Use and Prevention.

Marijuana products available today can be more than three to five times stronger than what was available even a decade ago, the report says. The concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive substance in the marijuana plant, has increased considerably, from approximately 4% in the early 1980s to upward of 12% in 2012. This increases the risk of adverse effects and the potential for addiction, the report says.

The drug has been legalized (PDF) for recreational use in eight states and for medical use in 28 states. (These figures include Washington, DC.) Additionally, marijuana has been decriminalized in 22 states, where its use is considered a misdemeanor or infraction. Minors can get medical marijuana with parents’ written permission in most states that have legalized medical marijuana.

The AAP report expresses concerns that legitimizing marijuana as a medication may lead teens to think its a safe drug, regardless of whether it’s prescribed or not. The report shares a list of adverse effects and points out that data only supports prescribing it to children in extremely limited circumstances—for decreasing seizures in specific epilepsy conditions, such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.

And the growing range of marijuana products create new risks, the report says, including “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 ordinary treats.”

“In addition, being ‘high’ on marijuana interferes with a parent’s ability provide a safe environment, especially for younger children,” Ryan said in a release on the report.

The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that of 22.2 million marijuana users, 1.8 million were adolescents (PDF). The survey also found that the percentage of adolescents in 2015 who were current marijuana users hasn’t increased much in recent years. Growth in marijuana users was primarily driven by adults over age 26 and to a lesser extent, those between age 18 to 25.