Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Legalizing Marijuana Could Harm Adolescents, Say Child Psychiatrists

“Marijuana use is not benign, and adolescents are especially vulnerable to its many known adverse effects,” the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says in a new policy statement. The academy therefore opposes efforts to legalize marijuana, even as more states pass legislation to permit its sale, either for recreational or medicinal purposes.

"The academy’s policy statement reflects the growing body of research documenting the detrimental effects of marijuana on adolescent brain development and functioning,” said child and adolescent psychiatrist David Fassler, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and APA treasurer, in an interview with Psychiatric News. “The policy specifically notes concerns about the increased risks and severity of substance abuse, as well as mood and anxiety disorders.”

While nominally restricted to adults, legalized sale of marijuana will likely increase use among parents and cause adolescents to dismiss the drug’s harmful effects, according to the statement.

Many child and adolescent psychiatrists believe that the criminalization of marijuana possession and its use has also harmed children and families, Fassler noted. “For this reason, the academy’s policy emphasizes the importance of improved access to appropriate and effective treatment for adolescents, rather than encouraging enhanced criminal charges and penalties,” he said.

To read more about the legalization of marijuana and its potential effects on young people, see the Psychiatric News column, “Marijuana Legalization and Young Brains: Time for Serious Study.”

(Image: Stanimir G.Stoev/