Medicinal Marijuana

Oct 28, 2010

Dr. Rebecca Jankovich, PhD can be reached at 322-1839.Medicinal MarijuanaMunsey, C. "Medicine or Menace?" Monitor on Psychology, June 2010, p.50-55. How do you teach your kids it's not OK to smoke marijuana, or "weed" as they call it these days, when 14 states have made it legal to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, including California, and in November Californians will vote on whether marijuana should be legalized for recreational use? It always helps to be armed with the facts; it's not enough to tell your kids they can't use weed because you said so. Marijuana does have legitimate medical benefits. When smoked or when the active ingredient, THC, is taken in pill form, marijuana can help deal with the nausea, loss of appetite and anxiety that come with treatment for HIV or cancer. The effects of marijuana calm people, help them sleep, and stimulate their appetite so they eat more. Marijuana has also been found to help with neuropathic pain the kind of pain that comes from nerve damage due to an injury, chronic diabetes, amputation of a limb, and other diseases. Neuropathic pain is extremely difficult to relieve and is not well covered by the traditional opiod based pain relievers. For patients with chronic pain or the side effects of chemotherapy, medicinal marijuana provides the relief that allows them to get back to doing what made life worthwhile, without the debilitating side effects of other traditional medicines. Public opinion polls suggest there's a growing acceptance for marijuana to be legalized for personal use. In October 2009, 44% of adults favored legalizing marijuana whereas 9 years ago only 1% were in favor of legalization. Our attitudes towards marijuana use are slowly becoming more liberal, but marijuana remains a significant abuse threat for our kids. Research from the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research Scripps in San Diego, suggests that 10% of marijuana users go on to develop dependence on the substance despite your kids telling you it's not addictive, marijuana DOES have addiction potential. When marijuana is heavily used, say more than several times a week, and the user stops, withdrawal symptoms kick in that push the user to start smoking again. In marijuana withdrawal there is increased irritability and anger, increased agitation and anxiety, difficulty sleeping and unusual dreaming, decreased appetite with food intake dropping as much as 1000 calories per day. The relapse rates of returning to use marijuana are as high as for cocaine, heroin or alcohol. Despite what your kids think, heavy usage of marijuana does effect their behavior. Most notably, it seems to drain away motivation; the smoker just doesn't care if they get good grades, do well in their sport, get along with family. What should bother them, and motivate them, doesn't spark a fire any longer. The range of their social activities narrows so they're only hanging with the kids who get high. There's a long term impact on life quality as well. Researchers compared heavy users who'd smoked 18,000 times in their life time with light users who'd smoked less than 50 times. The heavy users were less satisfied with the quality of their lives, had lower ratings across all factors measured including overall happiness, diet, and self esteem. Heavy usage may make for a less stressful day but it leads to diminished life satisfaction. And it's very difficult to convince a marijuana user that their use of the substance is the cause or even a contributor to their problems. When you can't see the connection between using marijuana and your struggles in life, you have no motivation to quit using. With other drugs of abuse, it's a lot easier to see that your troubles stem from the addiction. We don't have great ways to treat marijuana dependence. As with most addictions, the person doesn't stop using until they're ready to stop even when you've sent them to very expensive residential treatment programs. As a parent, your best course of action is to have a zero tolerance policy for marijuana. Even if you have no suspicion of drug use, test your teen's urine every 3 or 4 months so they can say "no" to offers to use because their parents run drug tests and also because you want to know there's a problem before it shows in lack of motivation. If there has been drug use, then drug test every week. Dirty drug test means no privileges, no car, no going out, no phone, no ipod, no music; clean drug test means the privileges are slowly added back in, one a week as long as the urine tests clean. Go to "" to order the paper strips to test for marijuana in urine. The effects of marijuana are beguiling; your kids will probably lie to keep using. It's much easier to stop usage early on than deal with the damage to selfesteem that comes with long term usage. Yes, you're a jailer not a friend. No, you probably can't trust them. Yes, marijuana is addictive and damaging.