Does Approving the Use of Medical Marijuana Cause Teens to See the Drug as Safe for Recreational Use?
When Sion Kim Harris, a Harvard Medical School substance abuse researcher, visits high school classes to talk about marijuana and other drugs, she does not hang up a “Just Say No” banner or talk about how a drug charge can stain a student’s criminal record.
Harris instead talks about cannabinoid receptors and brain development, about how regular marijuana use may affect performance on a test now, or 10 years from now. As states loosen their laws around limited marijuana use, raising concerns that it could cause an increase in use by teenagers, recent studies have found that marijuana dependency among teens can change their brains for the long term.
Voters in November will consider a ballot question that would make Massachusetts the 18th state to allow medical use of marijuana. Advocates of such laws say marijuana offers patients with chronic conditions like cancer and Crohn’s disease relief from pain and nausea, and research has begun to show such benefits. But experts in drug policy and public health say they worry the change could shift teens’ perspective, making them see the drug as curative and safe for recreational use.
“I think we’re going to be sacrificing the mental health of our young people if we pass this law,” said Dr. John Knight, director of the Boston Children’s Hospital Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research, where Harris also works.
Recent studies have found that marijuana use may cause or worsen mental health problems in long-term and regular users. Two 2010 reviews of the medical literature related to schizophrenia and psychosis said the research suggests marijuana may bring on the disorders or worsen symptoms, particularly in young people already genetically predisposed to the conditions. Both reviews noted gaps in the science and said more study is needed.