Recreational marijuana use has become legal in four states — Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and the District of Columbia. Voters in other states are actively considering the issue.
As the reality of legalization unfolds, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is raising concern about the risks of marijuana to children and teens. According to an AAP policy statement updated earlier this year, campaigns for legalization may minimize the evidence that marijuana is harmful to children and adolescents, even though this has been supported by extensive research.
More recently, a commentary published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that policies to protect kids now that pot is becoming more readily available need to take into account the lessons learned from efforts to control access to cigarettes and alcohol.
The statement covers what research has shown the effects of marijuana are. Mentally, the immediate consequences of marijuana use include impaired short-term memory, decreased concentration, attention span, and problem-solving. These cognitive effects may translate into academic underachievement and school failure, which can, in turn, negatively impact future success in the academic, social, and professional arenas.Marijuana can have long lasting effects on behavior, mental health, judgment, and other neurobiologic functions.ADVERTISEMENT
Other effects, such as changes in muscle control, coordination, judgment, and reaction time have also been reported. These side effects, though short-term, can contribute to accidental injury and death, especially from car accidents or risk-taking behavior.
Marijuana use can cause an increase in psychosis in those who have a predisposition to schizophrenia.
There are long-term effects as well. Smoking marijuana can damage the lungs. Because brain connections are still developing into the mid-twenties, exposure of immature brain tissue to marijuana can have long lasting effects on behavior, mental health, judgment, and other neurobiologic functions.
The younger an adolescent begins using marijuana, the more likely he or she is to develop an addiction in adulthood.
“The early days of marijuana legalization present a unique window of opportunity to create a regulatory environment that minimizes youth access,” Brendan Saloner, the leader of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a statement.
States should pay attention to lessons learned from tobacco and alcohol regulation, he added.
In their commentary in Pediatrics, Saloner and his colleagues have some suggestions for regulating marijuana use: