Gummy bears incident abrupt reminder of marijuana dangers

January 05, 2017 | by Aaron Weiner, Ph.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

In December 2016, 14 students from Naperville North High School were hospitalized after exhibiting rapid heartbeats, dry mouth, dizziness and panic-like symptoms. The common thread? They all consumed gummy bears that had been laced with THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana.

THC-laced foods are called “edibles,” and are commonly sold at recreational marijuana dispensaries in states that have legalized marijuana.

Although all of the students made a full recovery, their poisoning is an abrupt reminder of the increasing trend in marijuana use among our nation’s youth, and the serious harm that can result from its use.

Why the increasing trend? Mistaken assumptions about marijuana by American youth are commonplace. Here are three common misperceptions about marijuana:

  1. “It’s just weed.”

    Many adolescents and young adults are under the impression that marijuana is “just weed” – a natural, low-risk drug, with few short or long-term side effects. This could not be further from the truth, particularly for children. In recently-published scientific articles, regular marijuana use has been linked to:

    • Addiction (25-50 percent of daily users)
    • Altered brain development in adolescents
    • Lowered IQ over time (6-8 points)
    • Diminished overall life satisfaction
    • Lower grades in school
    • Lower lifetime earning potential
    • Development of a psychotic disorder

    Hardly harmless. What’s worse, it is not uncommon for street marijuana to be more than “just weed”— laced with other substances, including cocaine or heroin. Using marijuana is always a risk, even more so for our children with brains that are trying to develop normally.

  2. “It’s not as bad as alcohol.”

    This rationalization is also common among adolescents — the idea that, because using marijuana is somehow the lesser of two evils, this makes using it somehow better. It is also untrue: both marijuana and alcohol produce altered states of consciousness, and both impair judgment.

    In addition to clear evidence of stunted brain development and increased risk of developing a psychotic disorder, a recent study linked marijuana use to earlier onset of sexual activity in adolescents. Increased marijuana use has also been directly connected to increased emergency department visits and traffic fatalities.

  3. "If it was so bad for you, it wouldn’t be medicinal."

    Although we call medical marijuana “medical,” from top to bottom it is actually not treated like medicine. If it were, marijuana would still be illegal and no dispensaries would exist. For example:

    • Medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is an extremely rigorous process that involves passing multiple clinical trials, and is overseen by physicians and other medical professionals at every stage. “Medical” marijuana is approved by ballot-box initiatives, asking general citizens with no medical experience to make a judgment about whether or not it is an effective treatment for a symptom of a disease.
     
    • Medicines are determined, through repeated scientific rigor, to actually treat the conditions for which they are prescribed. Marijuana is actually the opposite: in a 2015 review study, marijuana was not found to be consistently effective in treating the majority of the conditions it has been approved for, and in some cases actually made the condition worse. No major medical organization has endorsed marijuana as a treatment for virtually any disease, and virtually no reputable physicians will “prescribe” it out of their office. In its defense, marijuana is sometimes effective at helping with nausea, appetite and pain, but the side effects and risk of addiction generally outweigh its benefits.
     
    • Prescriptions are written for a certain dose, frequency and administration route (pill, nasal spray, etc.). Marijuana registration provides none of these, and simply provides access to buy marijuana as the individual sees fit. On top of that, published studies have found that medical marijuana is very inconsistent in its labeling, so you never really know what you are buying.

Does this product sound like medicine? Does it sound relatively harmless, “natural,” or like “just a plant?” Not to me.

This sound likes an industry starting up, needing to introduce its product as healthy rather than harmful, and trying to obscure science with popular opinion. An industry that, much like tobacco before it, has our children in its crosshairs: who are THC gummy bears aimed at, really? Probably not 50-year-old adults with low-back pain or multiple sclerosis.

Research shows that 90 percent of addictions begin in teenage years — this is a shocking statistic that is impossible to ignore.

As adults we have the ability to make informed choices about what we put in our bodies, but our children are much more vulnerable. Learn the facts about marijuana, educate your children, and do not allow big business to alter the course of your child’s life.

Read our blog: Marijuana: a gateway drug that keeps growing stronger and learn how to spot marijuana use in teens.

Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

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