Risks and Long-Term Effects of Marijuana Use

As of January 1, 2020, individuals over the age of 21 in the state of Illinois will be able to legally purchase cannabis (marijuana) from licensed dispensaries. While the state has now permitted sale of non-medical or recreational marijuana, it’s important for parents and caregivers to know the health risks and consequences associated with this addictive drug.

Effects of Marijuana Use

“We know that long-term use of marijuana starting in adolescence is associated with cognitive deficits that impair learning and work efforts and may not resolve by adulthood, even when marijuana use is ceased,” said Maria H. Rahmandar, MD, Medical Director, Substance Use & Prevention Program (SUPP), The Potocsnak Family Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine. 

Marijuana and Pregnancy

In addition, use of marijuana in pregnancy is associated with poor fetal growth, low birthweight and greater need for newborn intensive care for infants. Rahmandar shared, “Studies have shown that children exposed to marijuana in the womb are more likely to have problems with verbal reasoning, comprehension and short-term memory.”

What Parents Can Do to Prevent the Long-term Effects of Marijuana Use

A parent, guardian and/or caregiver can serve an integral role to prevent use of marijuana by children and adolescents. “Often marijuana is the first drug tried by young people, and it’s often believed to be non-addictive or harmless which is not true,” said Rahmandar. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) short- and long-term recreational use of marijuana in adolescents can be addictive and can cause:

  • Impaired short-term memory, decreased concentration and attention span that affects learning
  • Impaired judgment and motor control
  • Cause serious harm to lungs
  • Increase rates of psychosis (i.e. depression, anxiety or schizophrenia)
  • Higher likelihood for drug dependence into adulthood
  • Higher likelihood for dropping out of high school
  • Gateway drug to try other more illicit drugs
  • Increase in suicide attempts

Regular use of marijuana can alter an adolescent’s still growing and developing brain. Adults should take the following steps to help prevent a child or teen’s use of marijuana and/or other drugs:

  • Communicate with your child or teen about the consequences and dangers of drug use.
  • Instill strong values and set expectations with your child or adolescent.
  • Don’t hide the truth. Be honest and share teachable moments.
  • Help your child prepare for peer pressure.
  • Address emotions and share with your young person how to express feelings to resolve problems.
  • Set positive examples by avoiding use of tobacco and illicit drugs, and minimize alcohol use.

If you think your child or teen is using drugs, seek help and share concerns with a professional, trusted healthcare provider.

The Substance Use and Prevention Program (SUPP) at Lurie Children's provides comprehensive and holistic care for patients and families. As a specialty program within The Potocsnak Family Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, SUPP utilizes multidisciplinary team to address the complex needs of those experiencing substance use disorders. We provide that every adolescent that comes through our program with current and evidence-based care for addiction treatment and prevention.

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