Opinion

Stop marketing marijuana to teens

How to protect teens from the mainstreaming of marijuana

The advantage of marijuana edibles, as The 420 Times’ “Old Hippie” has written, is that it gives potheads a smoke-free way to get high, sparing lungs undue harm. The bad news: It makes marijuana all the more appealing to children.

Combine that with the mainstreaming of marijuana across the country and pro-pot messaging on social media, and all the good news about the so-called green rush could end up taking a terrible turn.

The popular Twitter account @stillblazingtho, for example, tweets pothead humor and the appeal of getting high. Some recent tweets include:

“Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy weed which is pretty [expletive] close.”

“People should be judged by the content of their character, not the content of their urine.”

“Worry less, smoke more.”

If only the majority of the account’s followers weren’t teens, as researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found during an eight-month period in 2013. According to a study published Friday in the Journal of Medical Internet Research,  73% of @stillblazingtho’s followers were teens. Almost 20% were 16 or younger.

“It is of concern that so many youth and young adults are following a Twitter handle that depicts marijuana use as a popular and normal social activity,” Washington University’s researchers argue.

Dr. David Sack would certainly agree. In a Times Op-Ed last week, Sack, board certified in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine, argued that “We need to start child-proofing pot.”

“Whatever is intended by legalization, children seem to be hearing this: Marijuana is no big deal. But especially for the young, nothing could be further from the truth,” wrote Sack, who takes particular issue with edibles that look like candy.

He warned:

“Marijuana damages developing brains. Adolescence is a particularly vulnerable time for the brain, which continues developing well into the 20s. Marijuana can disrupt the process, meaning the brain may not form normally.... Memory-related structures in the brain appeared to shrink and collapse inward, and the younger the smokers were when they began chronic use, the more abnormally the brain regions were shaped.

“Marijuana is linked to mental health problems. The National Institute on Drug Abuse warns that there are now ‘sufficient data’ to show that for those predisposed to schizophrenia, marijuana may trigger its onset and possibly intensify the symptoms. It has also been linked to increased depression and suicidal thoughts.

“Marijuana sets up kids for failure. We give children one overriding task: to learn. Introducing a substance that slows reaction time, distorts judgment and interferes with memory short-circuits that task.”

What’s the solution?

 “We need to focus on better ways to protect children, combat the notion that marijuana is harmless,” wrote Sack. “Legal or not, for the most vulnerable among us — our kids — marijuana is the opposite of no big deal.”

Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier

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