By Mishelle Nace, MD
Dear Those Living in a Marijuana Decriminalized State,
Now that I am legal in Alaska, it’s going to be a lot easier for children to come in contact with me. For some kids it won’t be a problem; they may not even notice me. For others I could have a much bigger impact and I could lead them to a place they had not planned on going. It is not my intent to harm anyone, so I figure if I want to keep kids safe, it’s best to clarify a few things.
Just because I am legal, it does not mean I am safe for all. To be clear, although the law states I am legal for adults, that does not stand true for those under 21. There are reasons for that distinction:
Some studies show concerning things about me, and how I might affect developing minds. Teenagers’ brains are not fully developed until closer to their mid 20s, and experimenting with a mind-altering substance during this crucial growth period can lead to a less desirable path of maturity. Studies have also shown that adolescents that use me regularly have a more challenging time with school work and have a higher risk of not completing high school. Who wants that outcome? And addiction? Yep, that can happen too. People who start using me at a younger age are more likely to have an addiction problem than people who wait until adulthood to use me.
Sometimes, I make people not care as much as they should. If an adolescent is facing a problem, they may decide in that moment they don’t want to deal with it. If I am accessible, they might opt to use me to escape the problem instead of figuring out a better or longer-lasting solution. Although that might feel better to them in that moment, over time, that can really be a disservice to their developing brain. And if they choose to use me repeatedly during this crucial time of emotional maturing, they very well could miss out on effectively learning how to deal with complex issues that pop up on all of us throughout life. That is not an easy path to fix or rewire once you are in adulthood.
And it is no secret that when I am onboard, I make people approach things differently than they may have otherwise. Teenagers already tend to be bigger risk-takers than adults, in general. When I enter the equation, I can further impact risk-taking behavior. Things that may have been processed as “a bad idea” when sober now have fewer common sense barriers to keep them from being put into action. Things like driving under the influence when reflexes are not as quick, having relationships not in one’s best interest or failing to do something crucial that got overlooked while under the influence.
Here are a few things from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services’ website that you can do to help keep your kids safe:
- Set clear rules and expectations regarding use.
- Make it a part of your life to be a part of your children’s social life at home and school by talking with them regularly.
- Start conversations about marijuana early, even while they are still in elementary school and don’t yet know the dangers.
- When they do talk, listen carefully and respond without judgment.
- Coach them on how to say no to marijuana and other drugs.
- Monitor your own attitude and actions regarding me as this may affect their approach and decisions about me as well.
Want more tips on how parents can help prevent underage marijuana use? Check out this in-depth article from Seattle Children’s Hospital.
I do have to add one more significant concern about me before I sign off – the danger of young children accidentally consuming me because I look like candy or a sweet treat. With my legalization, you’ll find me in new, varied product forms, including edible products of all sorts, and the packaging can be very deceiving, or non-existent even. For example I can be disguised in a brownie, cookie, gummy bear, bread and many other forms.
To help avoid unintended ingestions by children, the State of Alaska website recommends the following regarding safe storage:
- Out of sight
- Out of reach
- Clearly labeled
- Stored in a child-resistant container
- Kept in a locked cabinet or box (helps the adolescents not get to me too)
If you are concerned a child has consumed me by accident, call Poison Control immediately (1-800-222-1222).
Now that I am going to be around more, there are many great resources to help families keep safe and make healthy choices for their families including this Alaskan website.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I feel it is my duty to help make you aware of some of my concerns.
Mishelle Nace, MD, is the pediatric medical director at Tanana Valley Clinic in Fairbanks, Alaska.