Cannabis and Children | Mental Health Blog

Date: 10/24/2017    Written by: Hiyaguha Cohen

Cannabis and Kids

Cannabis and Children | Mental Health Blog

Driving a major highway in California, one can’t miss the giant billboards announcing the coming of Cannafest, a “cannabis festival and trade gathering” featuring vendors “selling wares,” music, games, and a “family interactive zone” for “whole family fun.”1 Such billboards have become commonplace in states with legalized marijuana, but for anyone who grew up experiencing criminal penalties and mandatory viewings of Reefer Madness in high school—a film that shows marijuana driving young people to insanity and criminal acts—this public celebration of pot for the whole family is still a bit mind-bending.

And yet, while many are celebrating the opening of marijuana markets and especially the power of marijuana to heal and assuage various health issues, some are questioning its effects on the very young. This concern has come into sharp focus because unlike back in the days when marijuana was used almost exclusively to get high, when it either was smoked or baked into brownies, now pot appears in countless forms, from oils and drops to kid-friendly gummy bears. And apparently, when parents keep the candies in the cabinet, the kids raid and enjoy the effects.

Blood Support from Baseline Nutritionals

Why is this a problem? In teens, the main issue seems to be that pot can trigger psychiatric episodes, with symptoms so severe that hospitalization is required. Hospital admissions also result when toddlers and younger children have toxic reactions. Symptoms can include difficulty breathing, sleepiness, and even seizures and coma.2

“Parents need to understand that kids can actually get sick from this stuff,” says Dr. G. Sam Wang, a pediatric toxicologist at Aurora Hospital in Colorado. He points out that parents assume cannabis is harmless because they smoke it and suffer no negative effects, but children experience the effects differently.

This reality is reflected in the fact that as legalization becomes more commonplace, so do hospitalizations of young people suffering negative reactions. The number of teens admitted to hospitals for problems related to marijuana exposure quadrupled in Colorado after pot was legalized in the state.3 There’s also been a dramatic spike in cases of young children being admitted to hospitals because they’re having toxic reactions. In fact, across the US, in states where marijuana is legal, calls to poison control centers reporting emergencies with young children increased by an average of 30 percent each year from 2005 to 2011.

One conclusion that marijuana critics may jump to is that the substance causes psychiatric problems in teens, and that’s certainly an alarming contention. And yes, there’s plenty of research showing a connection between cannabis and the onset of mental illness. But it’s important to recognize that serious mental illness, and, in particular, psychosis, tends to manifest in the late teens to early twenties anyway if it’s going to show up, whether marijuana is involved or not. The average age of onset for schizophrenia is 18 for men, and 25 among women.4 Rather than being a cause, marijuana might simply speed things along, as studies do show that any psychoactive substance can trigger psychotic episodes. If someone doesn’t have the make-up to become psychotic, that reaction can’t and won’t occur. In other words, rather than being the cause of psychiatric crisis, marijuana might simply be the spark that lights a smoldering fire that’s going to ignite eventually anyway.

That’s not to say that marijuana won’t cause lesser psychiatric crises that last a few hours or so. Today’s cannabis products are as different from the reefer of the 60s and 70s as canned spinach is from the real thing—a whole lot stronger. And stronger doses can disorient anyone, particularly young people who don’t know what to expect and who still have developing brains. Back in 1972, the average THC content in marijuana (THC is the psychoactive component that makes users “high”) was less than one percent.5 Now, it’s closer to 20 percent, with strains as high as 30 percent available on the market.6 Translated, that means that potency has increased by 2000-3000 percent, on average, since the days of Richard Nixon, and the effects are far more dramatic.

As Dr. Julie Holland, a New York psychiatrist and cannabis specialist explains in a CNN interview, “The risk is not that you'll stop breathing or that you'll die. The risk is that you'll become very altered and disoriented, and you can get anxious and panicky in that situation."

Given that six percent of teens (about 5 million in actual numbers) consume cannabis daily, it’s a wonder that more don’t end up hospitalized.  But some say mental health issues are the least of the concerns related to teen use—they’re more worried about cognitive effects. To be fair, research on the long-term cognitive effects on teens has turned up mixed results, but at least a few studies have tied heavy marijuana use in adolescence, particularly up to age 17, to long-term alteration in the brain’s structure and resulting loss of significant IQ points, with severity of symptoms corresponding to level of use.7 Adults, on the other hand, may actually reap cognitive benefits and memory restoration from marijuana use, studies show.88 Again, the developing brain reacts differently to psychoactive substances than does the adult brain.

On the other hand, some childhood conditions seem to respond well to cannabis. Preliminary studies indicate that it might be useful in treating kids with autism and those who suffer from seizures, reducing frequency. But will it be helpful to your kids? Or harmful to them? The bottom line is that the jury is still out, research is still underway, and we probably won’t have definitive conclusions for another decade. In the interim, you’d do well to lock up your own stash, cajole your kids to hold off until age 17, and use responsibly after that.

  • 1.
  • 2. Knight, Victoria. “133% leap in children admitted to ER for marijuana, study finds.” 14 August 2017. CNN. 18 October 2017.
  • 3. Fox, Maggie. “ER Visits for Kids Rise Significantly After Pot Legalized in Colorado.” 5 May 2017. NBC News. 18 October 2017.
  • 4.
  • 5. Hellerman, Caleb. “Is super weed, super bad?” 9 August 2013. CNN. 19 October 2017.
  • 6. “Marijuana far more potent than it used to be, tests find.” 23 March 2015. CBS. 19 October 2017.
  • 7. Weir, Kristin. “Marijuana and the developing brain.” November 2015. American Psychological Association. 19 October 2017.
  • 8. a. b. Osborne, Hannah. “Can Marijuana Restore Memory? New Study Shows Cannabis Can Reverse Cognitive Decline in Mice.” 8 May 2017. Newsweek. 19 October 2017.

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    Submitted by Reed Bernstein on
    November 2, 2017 - 8:51am
    Boulder , Colorado

    I spoke with someone who had done extensive research on the health benefits of cannabis products. There are some very exciting benefits in that regard. However he was very clear about the effect on young people being highly problematic. From his point of view, the jury was not still out, and he was adamant that anyone under 21 should not be engaging in recreational use of these drugs. It sounded like research on this is actually quite clear and conclusive.

    Submitted by Michael Ponzani on
    November 2, 2017 - 11:54am
    Youngstown , Ohio

    They won't say much about this: Yahoo ran one article that stated more and more people are becoming psychotic since bootleg growers are growing a very high THC, low cannabidiiol version of the plant. This strain grows rapidly with out the benefits of the tamping down of the THC. I It will still make you go nuts in the long run.

    Submitted by Pat on
    November 2, 2017 - 12:48pm

    Don't try to be "fair". Just tell the truth. Marijuana use affects all of us. It creates dependent people, and the government pays them money to keep them alive at the expense of the taxpayer. That's you and me, folks! It also puts people on the road who are driving impaired, and WE have to share the road with them. As for it being beneficial to the minds of adults, let my friend speak for herself. She was using marijuana for intractable pain from a botched shoulder surgery. She told me it fried her brain. Her personality changed, and then she dropped out of sight. I have no idea what happened, but given how INTENSE she was about high IQ, even suicide wouldn't surprise me. She was the founder of a group intended to boost IQ in children so that they would grow up and learn a way to reach the stars. I was once exposed to marijuana without my knowledge or consent. I KNEW I WAS IMPAIRED. And I was the designated driver. I was never so scared in all my life! And it shot my short term memory to heck! One of our adopted children clearly showed the symptoms of his mother's marijuana use during pregnancy. He had NO short term memory for all practical purposes, and he has no wisdom in making long term decisions. He doesn't care about most human relationships, particularly family, even after expressing heartfelt gratitude to me for raising him. Entire BOOKS have been written about how harmful marijuana is to everyone, so many different kinds of harm. The last thing we need is more dysfunctional people in our country!

    Submitted by Anne on
    November 5, 2017 - 4:29am
    Fairfield , Connecticut

    Jon Baron wrote Back in 1972, the average THC content in marijuana (THC is the psychoactive component that makes users “high”) was less than one percent.5 Now, it’s closer to 20 percent, with strains as high as 30 percent available on the market.6 My comment: I do not agree with this statement; the Marijuana is less potent; the reason is: the Marijuana is grown by commercial growers; almost all Medicinal MJ is commercial grade; as far as "the leaves"; Marijuana is a global natural Herb.
    the reason the children have reactions is they use mj oils;
    the herb's oils are concentrated thc; the oils are way too potent. "they ought to use teas and tinctures not concentrates." ;

    Submitted by Anne on
    November 5, 2017 - 4:37am
    Bridgeport , Connecticut

    Pat wrote: It creates dependent people, and the government pays them money to keep them alive at the expense of the taxpayer! the writer does not make sense ;there is not a government program in the united states today; nor is there a health insurer the usa who Pays for Marijuana."All buyers pay out of pocket in every state; all states collect mj taxes. AR.

    Submitted by Anne on
    November 6, 2017 - 8:36am
    Bridgeport , Connecticut

    What about the little Texas Girl who stopped her Seizures with MJ; she might have to move to Colorado to "get her medicine"; Marijuana itself "prevents Glaucoma".

    Submitted by Anne on
    November 6, 2017 - 1:24pm
    Bridgeport , Connecticut

    CBD is the name o the medicine; I wish the girl luck in her quest;

    Submitted by Jules on
    November 7, 2017 - 10:06am
    New York

    I smoked pot and sinsemilla a few times when I was 14 (in 1981) with very bad effects. I smoked sinsemilla one Saturday night and didn't wake up until Sunday night, which was very strange and disorienting. I have had lots of problems and sleep problems since then. Is there any way to heal the brain?

    Submitted by Anne on
    November 7, 2017 - 1:25pm
    Bridgeport , Connecticut

    to try to say "smoking marijuana that did not have any seeds";(sin-semilla) has an effect on you 35 years later is absurd!!!!;AW

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