The United States is steadily accepting marijuana as a legal recreational drug, but is it the right choice when it comes to vulnerable teens?
Marijuana-related psychosis is slowly creeping into emergency rooms and addiction treatment centers. Patients suffering from THC related psychosis are getting younger and younger, too. Older teens are entering alcohol and drug treatment centers across the country with the diagnosis of moderate to severe marijuana use disorder only. Often, severe mental health symptoms led them to treatment. Understanding why this is happening is imperative to knowing how to handle the situation, should it arise in your family or community.
Legalization and Dependency
With the increasing acceptance of marijuana throughout the United States, there’s been a rising concern for the dependency-causing drug. The negative effects of marijuana are not highly known, especially among younger users.
The problem is that when marijuana is legal people don’t see it as much of a problem as when it is illegal. Adolescents see it as a pass to use it without having to worry about getting into trouble. This is especially true with the rise in e-cigarette use. Research shows people who vape are more likely to use marijuana. Many teens prefer to vape marijuana when it is available and it is rapidly becoming more available.
As more teenagers vape, their chances of using marijuana are much higher. That use of marijuana can quickly become a dependence on the drug and then, of course, addiction. As the addiction takes control of their lives, they quickly find themselves in the pits of a life of despair and regret. As addiction progresses in their young lives, more and more consequences occur. If they are fortunate, they may land in an addiction treatment center to free themselves from the control that marijuana has over their lives.
To show how real this is, according to statistics, the number of patients who were admitted as a primary diagnosis of cannabis use disorder from 2014 to 2019 has risen to over 22%. Independence Blue Cross, a health insurance provider, reports claims having to do with cannabis use has increased significantly between 2012 and 2019 to the tune of 180%. For patients who were between the ages of 19 and 25, the claims increased by 100%. Adolescent claims rose by 25%.
Anxiety and detachment from reality are two of the most devastating effects of cannabis-use disorder. And despite these effects, young people continue to use causing them to suffer even greater.
Marijuana-Related Emergency Room Visits Increase
Moderate to severe cases of marijuana addiction are found in treatment centers, but many of them start in emergency rooms. Paranoid delusions from using marijuana are becoming more common in emergency rooms across the country. These teen emergency room patients can be first time users, first year users or chronic users. Many of them show signs of acute psychosis.
Legalization of recreational marijuana and medicalization of “medical marijuana” clearly means dramatically increased supply of marijuana available for teens to find and use. Teens are unconstrained by notions of illegality and they are taking full advantage. They are using more of it for longer periods of time than ever before. The mind-altering effects become consistent and that causes changes in the brain that can end up mimicking the signs of a severe mental illness.
The other side of using more and more often is that marijuana is much more potent than it was back in the 70s – Woodstock era. In the 1990s even, THC concentrations were in the single digits, but now they are as high as 30%. When people use extractions, such as oils and waxes, the concentration can quickly increase to 80% to 90%.
With the introduction of vaping that has come up over the last few years, people are experiencing the effects of marijuana even more than if they had smoked it. The huge increase in vaping-related lung injuries that have claimed 52 deaths in 2019 were mostly those who were vaping THC products. It’s the higher concentration in the oils and liquids that did it. The Center for Disease Control has now advised that people who vape should stay away from THC containing oils.
The Developing Brains of Adolescents and Cannabis Use
The potency of cannabis these days is highly concerning when adolescents are using it. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that between 9% and 30% of people who use marijuana may develop a use disorder and the risk increases for younger people.
Those who use marijuana in adolescence are more likely to have impaired memory, attention and cognitive functioning. The effects can be permanent.
Research from Duke University also shows that IQ decreased by eight points for those who reported consistent marijuana use as a teenager.
While adults who have a use disorder and experience psychosis seem to only have an acute case of it, teenagers who suffer from marijuana addiction many suffer from a chronic psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia. This is especially true of those who have a genetic predisposition for it.
Marijuana Abuse Recovery
Marguerite, a 21 Pennsylvania State University (PSU) student learned from her own experience that marijuana isn’t as harmless as many people believe. She became addicted to marijuana and smoked it at least six times a day. If she wasn’t smoking it, she was eating it.
Not only did she start to feel the negative effects of marijuana, but she craved a more intense high, so she started using other drugs. It wasn’t long after high school graduation that she was hospitalized for anxiety disorder. After a failed attempt at substance-use outpatient treatment, she went back to using marijuana and alcohol. The psychosis became intense, so she tried inpatient addiction treatment for three months. It was the help she needed. She’s now an active member of the recovery community at PSU.
If you have concerns about high-risk behavior you see in your teen, BoardPrep offers a comprehensive personalized clinical assessment for teens and an outpatient program, as indicated. A phone call to 813-600-7929 can help you decide if BoardPrep may be a good path for your family.