To the Editor:
A 15- year old teen, who feels isolated for whatever reason (being bullied, dealing with stress at home, trying to cope with the recent death of a loved one, struggling with sexual identity, or feeling enormous pressure–school, sports, etc.), wakes up daily feeling anxious, depressed, and does not feel ready to tackle the challenges that await him. He can’t stand feeling this way. He is offered marijuana. With “medical” marijuana available to anyone who wants it, new sellers are eager to make a profit. (An astonishingly large number of teens report using diverted “medical” marijuana.) The teen has heard messages from parents, teachers, doctors, who have repeatedly and emphatically told him that marijuana is dangerous. Well-validated long-term studies clearly show a long-term reduction in IQ in teens that use marijuana habitually. But, the media and popular messages say that it is perfectly acceptable and safe to use. It is a medicine, he is told, and in some states is legal. You can get it in edible forms. So, of course, he tries it. He temporarily relieves his feelings of anxiety and depression. So, he tries more. And pretty soon, his use becomes regular. Marijuana has interfered with his developing brain, reducing its ability to feel pleasure without drugs. This gateway drug leads him to other dangerous substances. We try to offer him services. We pray he does not become another statistic. Our opioid epidemic has taken enough young lives. One in six youth who use marijuana will become addicted in their lifetime. A teen marijuana user is three times as likely to become addicted to opioids.
Unfortunately, the scenario just described is all too familiar to those of us who work with youth. We are seeing an epidemic of drug addiction in our youth use that starts with marijuana use. We see it in kids from all walks of life. No race, no religion, no socioeconomic class is immune.
This is my reason for writing this piece, strongly opposing the legalization of recreational marijuana. We cannot send the message to our youth that this drug is safe and cannot afford to have it more readily available.
This issue should have nothing to do with political affiliation; it is not a “progressive issue”. This issue is about protecting our youth; there is no liberal or conservative lean to this, just concern and fact. We know if given the chance, advertisers will target your youth, knowing their vulnerability. All we have to do is look at the aggressive advertising that is being done in Colorado. Edible products, with a deliberate and remarkable resemblance to almost any well-known treat that kids eat, are everywhere. A perfect example is “Pot Tarts”. There are no limits to advertising set on our state’s ballot question. In Colorado, we are seeing an increase in emergency department visits of accidental marijuana ingestions by young children.
Studies are now showing increasing rates of marijuana and other drug use among teens in Colorado. In fact, Colorado has the largest rate of teen marijuana use in the nation. Motor vehicle accident fatalities due to THC have increased in Washington State.
We are in the midst of an epidemic of abuse of prescription and recreational drugs.
We tirelessly educate and will continue to educate on the harmful effects of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. We will work on increasing mental health services and addiction treatment for our youth. And to accomplish this, the last thing we need is the legalization of a gateway drug with a high risk of addiction potential that has detrimental long-term physical, cognitive, psychological effects.
Safdar Medina, MD, FAAP
The author is a Southborough resident and general pediatrician who works in Uxbridge.