Is smoking pot really a poison to your brain? | Mental Health Matters | SierraSun.com

Is smoking pot really a poison to your brain? | Mental Health Matters

Andy Whyman, MD
Special to the Bonanza

If I were a parent today, I'd be a regular attendee at Parent Support Group Anonymous (PSGA), the group I just invented to help parents on their journey.

Parenting is so much harder now than it used to be. Obviously it's way more expensive, hundreds of thousands per "unit" as the economists like to say.

But it's the loss of communal support and certainty about how to parent that really lights up parental anxiety.

Once upon a time, kids tended to grow up in two-parent families with grandparents nearby to both teach parents how to parent and provide added guidance for a grandchild.

“For everyone who tells you that marijuana is brain poison, there are studies suggesting otherwise.”

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Neighbors tended to be neighborly and took an interest in your kids. Right and wrong were reasonably well delineated, and adults were around to enforce the message.

Most of what youth knew about the world was taught at home, in school, in books, or the television dreamworld of "Ozzie and Harriet."

No more. Now kids have a 50 percent chance of growing up in a one-parent household. Neighbors come and go, and neighborhoods are forever changing.

Dr. Spock, the kindly pediatrician who helped teach parents the "right" way to parent, and sold 50 million books in the process, is gone and dead. In his place is an army of self-proclaimed parenting experts, books, magazines and therapists proffering the new best advice on how to parent.

Meanwhile, youth have the Internet, cellphones and the most grotesquely violent "games" to pass the time.

The range of behavioral choices available to youth competes with and threatens to overwhelm the right and wrong a child might learn at home. Impressionable youth are susceptible to temptations that were unimaginable a generation ago.

And it gets worse. How's a parent to know just what to advise a child when there are so many competing "experts" out there?

Exhibit One: In the 6/5/15 Sierra Sun, we learn from the Tahoe Truckee Future Without Drug Dependence Coalition that, "recreational marijuana is a harmful and addictive product" and that negative effects linked to marijuana include a drop in I.Q., reduced academic achievement and addiction.

In other words, marijuana is really bad for you and you shouldn't go anywhere near it.

OK. I get the message, and so do most adolescents; you're trying to scare the hell out of kids so they won't even try marijuana once. A well-intended message, I'm sure.

And I also have no doubt that some youth will embrace this rhetoric as "truth" and never go near the stuff. But I also have no doubt that many will not, either because it's in the nature of adolescence to try on new behaviors, sometimes particularly if adults tell them not to, and/or because they read newspapers and surf the web.

Dr. Carl Hart, author, educator, and neuroscientist at Columbia University said, "Most of the stuff that parades as drug education in this country is just rubbish with no foundation in evidence."

Adds Brendon Saloner, assistant professor at John's Hopkins: "The frank answer is we don't know the best ways to communicate with teens about marijuana."

In January, 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised practitioners to avoid prescribing medical marijuana except for "chronic, debilitating conditions."

The Academy firmly opposed marijuana use in the under 21 age group while strongly supporting the decriminalization of marijuana for minors and young adults.

They note that, "the illegality of marijuana has resulted in the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of adolescents, with overrepresentation of minority youth," and that this can have lifelong negative impact.

The Academy advocates for laws that prevent harsh criminal penalties and instead focus on treatment.

So life is complicated. What we definitively know about adolescence and the adolescent brain is not settled science. The same can be said for our understanding of the long-term effects of rare, occasional, and regular marijuana use in adolescents.

For everyone who tells you that marijuana is brain poison, there are studies suggesting otherwise. For example, Claire Mokrysz, of University College London, studied 2,612 youths and recently reported that teens using cannabis 50 times or more by age 15 did not have a lower I.Q. than never-users.

Reassuring to some — scandalous and subversive to others.

What should you tell youth about marijuana? Children's Hospital of Colorado, in a state where adult use of marijuana is now legal, suggests, "Present the facts to your child objectively and use them to explain why marijuana use is still illegal for people under age 21."

I would add: 1. Hold your children close. They are your most precious asset. 2. Know how they spend their leisure time and who they befriend. 3. In talking to your child about drugs and alcohol, start with what they understand. Listen carefully. 4. Then, have an age appropriate conversation; don't lecture, but tell them what you know.

All parents have there own style. As for me, I would explain that adolescent brains are not fully developed and that both alcohol and psychoactive drugs will negatively impact brain performance.

I would say that I discourage any drug use, but that some drugs, i.e. cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, are far worse than marijuana or a beer. I would make it clear, in the spirit of harm reduction, that when you buy something off the street, you may be buying a lethal poison.

Be clear and firm — marijuana use before 21 is a bad choice. It's not OK.

And by the way, if as a parent you are smoking marijuana, either stop — the recommended suggestion — or lock it away where your child can't get at it, and don't smoke in their presence.

Incline Village resident Andrew Whyman, MD, is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist. His column focuses on drugs, mental health and substance abuse in an effort to raise better awareness. He can be reached for comment at adwhyman143@gmail.com.