With medical marijuana making inroads in many parts of North America, it can be hard to remember that consuming cannabis poses a significant risk. Now, health experts are coming forward to remind people that marijuana can be particularly dangerous when consumed by teens.
Dr. Sinthu Suntharalingam and Dr. Romina Mizrahi, who both specialize in drug addiction among young people, say it’s crucial that teens and parents recognize the dangers of smoking marijuana during one’s teenage years. Both point to a growing body of evidence showing that teens are more likely to experience hallucinations, paranoia, and even psychotic illness when consuming cannabis.
“When you look at the studies in general, you can safely say that in those that are vulnerable, it doubles the risk,” Mizrahi says.
Suntharalingam, who works at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, Canada, agrees. “I see more and more cases of substance-induced psychosis,” she says. “The most common substance that’s abused is cannabis.”
Suntharalingam says that the effects of marijuana on teens can be quite scary. “They’ll be seeing things, hearing things, sometimes they will try to self-harm or go after other people.”
“Parents will be very scared. They don’t know what’s going on,” Suntharalingam added.
Suntharalingam and Mizrahi says that a number of factors–from genetics to social issues and marijuana strength–play into a teen’s reaction to cannabis. They say every teen’s reaction to the drug will be different.
But both insist that the most crucial reason for teens to avoid marijuana is this: it can have dramatically negative effects on the brain, which is still developing as people go through adolescence. “You’re kind of tampering with or altering the system that’s there to regulate other things,” Mizrahi says.
Amir Englund, a psychiatrist based at King’s College London, agrees. He says his research has shown that people who smoke marijuana during their teenage years are more likely to develop psychotic illnesses later on.
Overall, Mizrahi says the risk associated with marijuana smoking during adolescence is just too high. “Certainly don’t do it when your brain is developing,” she said. “Don’t put yourself at risk.”