Should We Really Be Concerned About Youth Marijuana Use?
In an article published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry this year, the author, Elizabeth Osuch, MD, discussed her experiences speaking on the topic of youth marijuana use harm, and reported evidence supporting marijuana risks to young people.
I agree with Dr. Osuch’s suggestion that many Canadian’s, like many Americans, have strong opinions about marijuana legalization and, surprising to me, even the potential harmfulness of marijuana use for youth.
In her article, Dr. Osuch reported that she received hateful, rude and accusatory comments when it was announced she would speak on the topic of youth marijuana use harm in London, Ontario.
My Recent Experience on Facebook
Similarly, I received a number of startlingly blunt and dismissive comments when I recently posted on Facebook a couple of articles about marijuana risks for youth (see: http://preventionpluswellness.com/2016/09/teen-marijuana-edibles/ and http://preventionpluswellness.com/2016/09/prevent-youth-marijuana-epidemic/).
To summarize, comments to my posts on the potential harmful effects of youth marijuana use included:
1) there are many more hazardous drugs than marijuana that youth can ingest,
2) there are numerous other more serious dangers to youth health and well-being than marijuana use,
3) stop posting prohibitionist propaganda and pushing your American ideas on others, and
4) posts making light of recreational marijuana use.
In all fairness, I received many more favorable “Likes” to my Facebook posts about youth marijuana use harm than negative comments. But as a whole, my Facebook experience suggests that, like a lot of issues in the US and around the world, there are opposing if not polarizing viewpoints on marijuana use among youth.
How to Address Youth Marijuana Risks
Can we really afford to, as some of my Facebook post comments suggest, ignore evidence that marijuana use among youth, especially early and frequent use, puts youth at significant risk for physical and mental harm? In addition, should we accept the belief that marijuana use is less important than other substance abuse or health problems youth face, that efforts at postponing the onset and frequent use of marijuana among youth is akin to prohibiting all marijuana consumption, or worse yet, that the use of cannabis among youth is funny or a joke?
Like Dr. Osuch, I believe education is greatly needed to counter misunderstandings regarding the harm recreational use of marijuana poses for youth, as compared to adults, just as we have provided as a society with the other the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco.
In addition, I recommend youth marijuana use be bundled with other common youth health risks, including other substance use, physical inactivity, unhealthy eating, inadequate sleep, and uncontrolled daily stress in prevention programs and campaigns to make historic, cost-effective improvements in the broader physical and mental well-being of young people in our nation (see: http://preventionpluswellness.com/sport-prevention-plus-wellness/).
I also agree with Dr. Osuch who stated in her article that marijuana use among youth should not just be prevented from increasing, but it should be decreased because existing research clearly shows marijuana use among youth is not harmless.
Other Youth Marijuana Use Concerns
Two other important points related to this issue raised by Dr. Osuch bear consideration from lawmakers, educators, health professionals, youth leaders and parents. One, there is a lack of good and accessible treatments for youth marijuana use disorders, highlighting the critical need for more effective marijuana use prevention and treatment.
Two, the harmful effects of marijuana appear more pronounced for youth with psychiatric problems, that will lead to a much greater need for mental health and addictions services for youth in the future.
The legalization of recreational marijuana use in the US, Canada and elsewhere appears to be altering the perceived harmfulness and acceptability of marijuana use. These attitudes, however, should not be translated to youth who are much more vulnerable to both physical and mental harm from marijuana use than are adults.
In conclusion, the answer to the question of whether we should really be concerned about youth marijuana use is unequivocally yes. We should all be concerned about evidence showing negative physical, mental and social effects posed by the recreational use of marijuana among our youth.
More importantly, we should demand from our lawmakers that localities, states and nations, especially those that legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults, provide substantial and sustained resources for:
1) education on the harm cannabis poses to youth based on research findings;
2) evidence-based prevention shown to significantly prevent youth marijuana consumption, particularly that which cost-effectively bundles multiple health risks into single programs and campaigns;
3) stricter laws controlling the use of marijuana in inhalable and edible forms among youth, based on what we’ve learned about how to best protect youth from alcohol and tobacco products; and
4) vigorous enforcement of those laws.
Read Dr. Osuch’s article on youth marijuana use harm today: http://cpa.sagepub.com/content/61/6/316.short
Let us know what you think about this article and issue by commenting below and sharing on Facebook, Twitter and in other social media.