DENVER – The first two states to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes are starting to tackle the growing use of marijuana by teens, even as they boost the industry and reap huge tax benefits from sales.
Although the legal age of purchase is 21 in Colorado and Washington, parents, educators and doctors say that young people easily get edible products infused with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the component psychoactive at the origin of a high effect, and focus as "splinters", honey-colored substance that is heated and then inhaled by means of a special device.
Each of them poses serious risks to the physical and mental health of adolescents.
"Minor children have incredible access to nuclear force grass," said Andrew Brandt, a software manager in Boulder, Colorado, whose son became addicted to high school.
With marijuana products 68% THC on average – an exponentially greater amount than boomers once smoked – calls to poison centers and emergency room visits increased. In the Denver area, visits to facilities at the Colorado Children's Hospital for treatment of cyclic vomiting, paranoia, psychosis and other acute symptoms related to cannabis climbed to 777 in 2015, by compared to 161 in 2005.
The increase was most noticeable in the years following the legalization of medical product sales in 2009 and retail use in 2014, according to a study by the Journal of Adolescent Health published in 2018.
"Horrible things happen for kids," said psychiatrist Libby Stuyt, who treats teenagers in southwestern Colorado and has studied the health effects of high-potency marijuana. "I see more and more problems with psychosis, addiction, suicide, depression, and anxiety."
It is unclear if all of this means that years when the use of potted children is usually stagnant are coming to an end. Surveys reporting little change with pot since 2014 "may not reliably reflect the impact of legalization on adolescent health," concluded the authors of this 2018 study.
The latest survey of young people's health in Washington showed that 20% of grade eight students and nearly half of seniors "perceive little risk of regular marijuana use." Many teenagers consider this to be less risky than alcohol or smoking.
While more than a dozen states in Hawaii in New Hampshire plan to legalize marijuana, doctors warn of the urgent need for better education – not just teenagers, but parents and legislators – about how marketed products can significantly affect young people's brain development.
Limited scientific research to date shows that early and more frequent use of high THC cannabis puts adolescents at greater risk of substance use disorders, mental health problems and poor academic performance. .
"The brain is unusually vulnerable to adolescence," said Staci Gruber, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who studies the effects of marijuana on the brain. "Politics seems to have gone beyond science, and in the best of all possible worlds, science would allow us to define a policy."
Critics also insist that more needs to be done to maintain strict regulation of the industry. This is not the case so far, they say, with the opening of clinics near Seattle high schools and Denver medical and retail stores that outnumber the Starbucks and McDonald's sites. .
The bills passed this spring in the state legislature, with the support of two political parties, were aimed primarily at the expansion or deregulation of the industry. Washington lawmakers have eased the consequences of administrative violations, allowing written warnings instead of fines. Colorado lawmakers have approved a larger investment in marijuana companies and home delivery for drug users – followed by delivery for recreational users in 2021. Colorado has also allowed consumers to use the drug in clinics, restaurants and licensed theaters.
Some doctors compare state actions to public health experience, an experiment that defends the interests of the cannabis industry while ignoring the health consequences of adolescents.
"I hope we will not lose a generation of people until we understand that we need to protect the brains of our children," said Leslie Walker-Harding, a specialist in adolescent medicine, who chairs Seattle Children's Department of Pediatrics. Hospital. He also sees more teens with symptoms related to marijuana.
The industry does not agree that strong products such as crumble, pudding and lens are a danger, saying additional studies are needed. Existing data "does not determine whether changes in early cannabis use are harmful in the long run," said Morgan Fox, director of media relations for the National Cannabis Industry Association, in an email. "There is also a need for more research to find out if power really has an impact on consumers."
What is not disputed is how much is at stake financially. Ten states and the federal district of Columbia – Illinois on the brink of becoming the next country – allow the use of marijuana for recreational purposes for adults and 34 others for marijuana for medical purposes. Data from the Washington commercial market reached a record $ 978 million in fiscal year 2018, representing an excise tax of $ 358 million for the trunks of the United States. State. The Colorado pot industry achieved even higher sales in 2018: a record $ 1.54 billion, which earned $ 266 million in taxes, licenses and marijuana duties.
Colorado State Representative Jonathan Singer, a Democrat from the Longmont community, north of Boulder, expects the new Deliveries Act to help prevent teenagers from buying marijuana via the Internet and other sources of easy access. "We are in many ways eradicating a black market that does not care about whether they sell to children," he said in an interview.
Yet many educators and parents fear the opposite: the most recent measures will make it even easier for teenagers to use cannabis.
"It seems like everyone is looking at the other side and that, in the meantime, kids end up in hospitals," Brandt said, detailing the difficulties involved with his son's marijuana use. After the fall of the 20-year-old student's grades in the fall, his father enrolled him in a private treatment program that cost thousands of dollars a month.
The popularity of cannabis concentrates – which look nothing like the plant from which they are derived – is linked to the increasing use of electronic cigarettes by teenagers, according to school officials. Some electronic cigarette machines work with both marijuana and nicotine. Unlike a gasket on fire, the steam pot is odorless and smoke-free.
The crossing is evident in Montrose, a recreation center nestled in the Uncompahgre Valley on the western slope of Colorado. A 2017 national survey ranked Colorado at the top of the 37 US states for high school students consuming electronic cigarettes. That same year, a national survey revealed that there were more teenage victims of vape than in any other region.
Vaping is a growing disciplinary problem for director Scot Brown, a sizeable administrator who has led the Olathe middle and high school for eleven years. He keeps the evidence in his "confiscation drawer".
"It's a four-day period," he said recently, opening the drawer to reveal a dozen vape pens and other devices. One of them was a gold-drop gadget, black and gold, which he had found in a child's wallet. "Nearly 50% of my students have let go, be it nicotine or marijuana. It's an epidemic.
Brown is hardly the only educator in Montrose alarmed by the fact that students are deflating with cannabis. Matt Jenkins, who coordinates special education programs for the school district, has mobilized after seeing students "entering the stratosphere, going beyond too high". He got a $ 750,000 grant, funded by marijuana tax revenues, to hire two social workers and a nurse to help out with "the Pandora's box we opened."
Jenkins notes that the district "uses weed money to tell kids not to use it" – and to prevent or reduce addiction. His strategies include events bringing together students, parents, public health officials and even former users, as was the case during a hazy morning last month in Olathe.
In the school's cavernous gymnasium, successive assemblies were presented to a 40-year-old author, lecturer and addiction treatment consultant named Ben Cort. Wearing a blazer and jeans, he paced the ground and explained how he had abandoned marijuana as a teenager – and why it was so important.
Cort explained which part of the brain controlled which function. He focused on the frontal lobe, a critical area of problem solving, memory, language and judgment. He stressed that it is only until mid-twenties.
"Think of it this way: your brain is my phone. He's still growing up and being strong enough to support whatever the world is going to throw at him, "he said as he lifted his black phone over his head. "When you put THC in," Cort stopped and threw the phone down, causing gasps.
What will happen? He asked. His audience shouted the answer: "It's going to break!"
"Good," he replied. "The bottom line is that the weeds are not for children, whether they are eaten, eaten, vaped or smoked. I'm not fine."
Students have bombarded with questions: Is the herb an addiction? Are the effects on the brain of a teenager really visible on a scanner? Can you overdose? His answer again and again and again: yes.
Cort later admitted that his discussions with young people were often the most difficult. They think they know much more than they know, he says, and do not realize how vulnerable they are in an increasingly powerful world. The same goes for any state where the pot is legal, he says.
"We are keeping a marijuana construction that is out of date," he said. "In ten years, there will be a calculation."