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Commentary: Medical Marijuana – Time for Parents to Step In


To paraphrase a former First Lady, “What goes on in the White House is never as important as what goes on in your house.”

As the evidence mounts of the negative effects of medical marijuana laws in various states, it’s even more important for parents to recognize that marijuana needs to be on their parenting radar screen.

A Colorado study shows some of these impacts, where nearly 74 percent of a sample of teenagers receiving addiction treatment in that state told researchers they used medical marijuana that was recommended for someone else.

This news should be of no surprise because increased availability of marijuana is highly associated with increased use. Studies have shown that marijuana is not a safe, benign drug. It’s a highly addictive drug. When smoked it contributes to pulmonary damage. It significantly impairs judgment, and is associated with poor performance in school. Its use has also been linked to contributions to impairment on important measures of life achievement, including physical and mental health, cognitive abilities, social life and career status.

Marijuana is a drug that’s widely used by teens and young adults. Among teens aged 12 to 17, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, after several years of declines, current marijuana use increased in 2009 and again in 2010, to 7.4 percent of the population. Among young adults aged 18 to 25, almost 30 percent used marijuana in the past year, with almost 6.3 million young adult users in the past month.

Marijuana use is now more prevalent among teens than cigarette smoking. Marijuana smoke contains 50-70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke. Moreover, the typical weed available to adolescents these days is so much more potent compared to the marijuana used by prior generations. This increased potency is particularly concerning in light of recent scientific findings that marijuana use deleteriously affects brain development, particularly in areas related to mood, reward, and learning.

Medical marijuana laws have made parents’ jobs tougher, no doubt about it. Although the provisions of the statutes differ, as of early July medical marijuana statutes had been signed into law in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

Parents are a mighty lobbying force – at the local, state and national levels – particularly when they act in groups. We are not suggesting that parents shouldn’t try to influence government at any one of these levels.

But because governments move slowly and not always in everyone’s best interests, parents can (and should) influence what goes on in their households. Science will continue to inform the public and seek solutions. But as the constant in a child’s life – with protective instincts that can be brought out by science but not replaced – it’s the parents who are the first lines of defense for their children.

Ken C. Winters, PhD & Amelia Arria, PhD

Dr. Winters is the Associate Director, Dr. Arria the Scientific Director, of the Parents Translational Research Center (PTRC) of the Philadelphia-based Treatment Research Institute. The PTRC is a NIDA-funded Center dedicated to developing practical, science-based tools for parents and other caregivers faced with challenges related to adolescent substance abuse.

20 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Jurgen
    Jurgen / September 20, 2013 at 2:47 am

    Why don’t you post an article about how horrible it is that benzodiazepines and Concerta and steroids are legal with a prescription? Because some people really do need these medications. Same with marijuana. Besides why don’t you do drug rehabs etc etc on children who bought alcohol with a fake ID? Its the same thing but I would much rather let them smoke marijuana than drive into trees and get pregnant! Wake up

  2. Avatar of Charlie Sheen
    Charlie Sheen / March 17, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    I don’t have the time to go through here and read this but ive been using for 2 years, almost without missing a day. I have never craved it. I went through a few different stoppage points to get an internship and a job. I had no problems of addiction during these times. Despite a year of constant use. My grades and productivity in school went up my gpa went from 2.5 to around 3.2 talking upper level classes. My memories great and I function amazingly when on or off the substance. In my eyes it’s not a bad substance, and most accusations are false. It’s just not for the weak minded. Anyone who has trouble with this plant, are just weak in my eyes.

  3. Avatar of Cesar Garza
    Cesar Garza / October 24, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Marijuana is not as bad as alcohol or tobacco. It’s also a plant that grows from the ground and is not man made. I won’t lie I smoked almost all my high school years, which I have successfully completed with a G.P.A of 3.89. I’m not going to say Marijuana should be done by every body, but I am going to say that Marijuana has never effected my judgement. Alcohol and tobacco has killed more people then Marijuana has ever had and parents shouldn’t let their children smoke, but parents should do research on their own. Marijuana was smoked by pass American’s such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and they both lived good lives. If people want to smoke when they are old enough what can we do but present them with the facts. Medical patents should also not be to blame, they waste thousands every year on pill, when all they really need is a little marijuana. This could save them thousands every year.

  4. Avatar of Zach
    Zach / October 20, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    As a teenager myself, I can honestly say that it is much easier to obtain marijuana from kids/friends/dealers in public schools and my neighborhood than it is to obtain alcohol or cigarettes.

    Marijuana is very popular, and is readily available. Alcohol is harder to come by, because it is harder to reach a connection.

    People are willing to sell weed to anyone at any age. Not as many people are available to buy alcohol for minors.

    Dealers are easier to find than trying to play “Hey, Mister” at a local liquor store.

    Just my two cents.

  5. Avatar of k
    k / September 28, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    This paper clearly states that there is a problem with teenagers and that there is an increase in the numbers of teenagers taking marijuana, and that yes it is a problem for families to face but how do they deal with it? In reality what do you do as a parent if you have just found out that your child is smoking it. It is very well to make statements like “parents can (and should) influence what goes on in their households” is it unrealistic to think like this? Should you know what to do and how to deal with it? People make statements but where is the intevention or how do we look to the future for parents to deal with this worry.

  6. Bill Crane / September 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    Whoa. Isn’t this the same issue as kids getting into other medically-prescribed drugs (which is an acknowledged growing problem). The authors imply the problem is medical marijuana, an argument that sounds like it is directly from the propaganda mill at the DEA. How about some actual statistics regarding the impact of legal medical marijuana states vs those states that have no such laws. Is the marijuana use higher? Not so, say a number of studies, including a study in California for the period from 1996 (MMJ enacted) to 2008 that has found “no evidence supporting that the passage of Proposition 215 increased marijuana use during this period.” In fact youth use actually declined during this period. The more lies promoted from the drug war advocates the more the youth (and adults) mistrust their information.

  7. Amanda Reiman, PhD / September 14, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    “A Colorado study shows some of these impacts, where nearly 74 percent of a sample of teenagers receiving addiction treatment in that state told researchers they used medical marijuana that was recommended for someone else.” Hmmmm…. and if you asked teens in treatment for alcohol how often they used alcohol intended for someone else, the answer would be 100% because no alcohol is intended for minors. Ask teens in treatment for painkiller addiction and you would likely hear the same answer. For someone under 21, the only drug strictly “for them” is something prescribed by their physician, marijuana is no different.

  8. Avatar of Concerned
    Concerned / September 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    If marijuana has to be legal, then lets just increase the restrictions on how it can be obtained. I think you should have to get it from a pharmacist like any other doctor prescribed medication. Although I have seen the effects of mj on some individuals as a benefit I have seen more youth who have lost ambition and drive in life to succeed. In more cases than not the song “Afro Man” says it all.

  9. Avatar of Todd
    Todd / September 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    As a parent, I’ve found the most effective thing we can do is tell our kids the truth about cannabis. Honest dialog about the risks and benefits of cannabis helps to build trust and results in responsible decisions about cannabis use. Children who are taught only the lies and rhetoric presented in this article tend to trust their friends and drug dealers more than they do their parents. They may assume their parents are also lying about the risks of hard drugs.

  10. Avatar of G
    G / September 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    What is the difference between prescription marijuana and prescription drugs that pharmacies and doctors hand out like candy and actually “push” the pills?
    Medical marijuana is much less dangerous than all the prescription pills out there! Where are the parents in lobbying against those drugs? The only reason the government is so against medical marijuana is because the pharmacies can’t get their hands on marijuana. Pharmaceutical companies cannot patent anything natural, so they make no money on it.

  11. Avatar of Kyle
    Kyle / September 12, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    Drug dealers don’t ask for ID!!! That is why your kids are smoking marijuana. It is now easier for young kids to get there hands on it than it is to get alcohol. Legalize marijuana and it will kill the black market, than be a good parent and teach your kids right from wrong!!! wake up people it’s not going away!

  12. Joe Miller / September 12, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    So are the authors suggesting that youths should instead be obtaining their cannabis as produced and distributed by criminal predators that inhabit the black market? Is this supposed to be better than risking children pilfering the drug from family and/or friends who originally obtained the drug from legal sources? Should we turn over the responsibility for the production and distribution of all of our medications to criminals in the black market through prohibitionist policies?

  13. Avatar of Blake
    Blake / September 12, 2012 at 4:37 pm


  14. Avatar of HutchTheGreat
    HutchTheGreat / September 12, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    The harm they are saying from passing these laws, is that there is increased access to marijuana. That is simply logic: More marijuana out there, easier to get. If you want me to provide research about the detrimental effects of marijuana, it won’t be hard to be find. Questions?
    Hutch Out

  15. pfroehlich2004 / September 11, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    This article provides no evidence of any harm that has resulted from the passage of state marijuana laws. Presumably, this is due to the lack of any supporting data.

    Since 1996, 17 states have legalized the medical use of marijuana, yet they have seen no increase in crime, traffic fatalities, or age-adjusted incidence of pulmonary diseases. Nor is there any evidence that scholastic performance has declined in these states relative to others.

    If the authors can provide documentation of any of the above-mentioned phenomena, they should share it with their readers. If not, they should expect to be ignored.

  16. Concerned Citizen / September 11, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Parents have to set an example, rules, boundaries, and sustain involvement in their children’s lives to prevent substance abuse = agree. MMJ laws have made this job tougher? Maybe, the article does not make that point very strongly. Is the scale of damage by MMJ laws anything remotely close to the scale of damage done by prohibition? Not even remotely.

  17. Joe Miller / September 12, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Hutch, wouldn’t any chance of an increase in youth consumption of this drug that might occur through a diversion of legitimate legal sources be preferable over distribution from a source where the distributor has great financial incentives in seeing to it that the same child has access to many other maybe even more dangerous drugs? No reasonable individual wants to see children using drugs but you should consider the reality too that the drugs for which we have seen recent youth use rates decline is for those which are legally produced and distributed; namely tobacco and alcohol. Understand too that dangerous drugs aren’t the only thing children are going to come into contact with when they associate with criminal predators.

  18. perryrants / September 14, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    murder is NOT GOING AWAY. let’s legalize that too!!!

  19. Joe Miller / September 18, 2012 at 12:43 am

    Really perrypants? That’s your argument? Isn’t that the equivalent of the argument oftentimes used against gay marriage in which it is claimed that people will want to marry horses next, just plain silly. We’re trying to have a serious discussion here.

  20. Joe Miller / September 18, 2012 at 12:45 am

    If the restrictions are too prohibitive you’ll be doing nothing to address or prevent the negative consequences we’re currently seeing from full blown prohibitionist policies.

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