Thursday, April 22, 2010

Marijuana Preteens

Our society has a great deal of ambivalence about marijuana. It is currently a schedule I drug under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which means it is considered to have no medical value or use and cannot be administered in research studies. At the same time several states have enacted laws which make marijuana legal for medical purposes and more are considering doing so. Many people believe that the sale of marijuana should be legal in the same sense that tobacco and alcohol currently are but others see this as a mistake believing that marijuana is a gateway to use of other more dangerous substances. Marijuana is considered a "harmless" drug by many but we now know that in genetically prone individuals it can precipitate the onset of a schizophrenic like psychotic disorder. So what is it really and what should our society's stance be?

We do know some things. Marijuana is not more dangerous than the two legal substances alcohol and tobacco which are associated with and responsible for a great deal of morbidity and mortality. We also know that the main "gateway" to other drug use is not marijuana but nicotine. Despite the FDA position marijuana has clear medical benefits, particularly in managing cancer chemotherapy related nausea. But what are some of the risks involved if marijuana is legalized? Any studies that try to or help illuminate these questions is extremely valuable. A study recently presented at the American Society of Addiction (ASAM) scientific does give us one more piece of information in this complex puzzle.

The researchers evaluated 136 substance dependent boys and girls age 14-18 who were enrolled in substance abuse treatment and they looked at the possible effect of preteen marijuana use. What they found was that the adolescents who first used marijuana at age 13 or below had significantly higher rates of being dependent on hallucinogens and other co morbid substance abuse disorders. Preteen use was also associated with higher rates of post traumatic stress disorder, history of suicide attempts, and traffic violations. The other associated factor was that preteen users had very high rates of parents with less education. Now this is an association study, not a causation study but does give us some helpful information. Prevention efforts should be targeted especially to preteens whose parents have less education, to grade school children and those who are vulnerable as identified by suicide attempts or PTSD, as well as those with high rates of nicotine use. The researchers are examining the participants on an ongoing basis and will try to look at the question of whether preteen marijuana use is associated in any way with positive or negative response to substance abuse treatment.

This study does not really answer our questions but it does point to the issue of preteen use as associated with other risks. We know that tobacco use rate in preteens is high due to ready availability and we may have to deal with these problems if marijuana use is legalized.

Thought for the day

As I have said many times before there is no "safe" or "harmless" drug.

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