CONTACT Plenty of 'medical' marijuana diverted to kids - Dr. Christian Thurstone

My young patients have reported for quite some time that they’ve used someone else’s medical marijuana.

So, colleagues and I wanted to know just how prevalent the diversion of medical marijuana to adolescents in substance-abuse treatment  is. Our peer-reviewed findings are published in the July 2012 edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, and they were presented during the recent annual meeting of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence.

This study surveyed 164 Denver-area teens in treatment, and 121 of them — or nearly 74 percent — said they had used someone else’s medical marijuana. The average number of times they had done so? 50 times. 

We also found that after adjusting for gender and race/ethnicity, teenage patients who used medical marijuana had more symptoms of marijuana dependence and conduct disorders than those who did not use medical marijuana.

I also found it interesting that these youth were more likely to be Latino. At this time, I only can speculate that this especially vulnerable minority population is specifically targeted by medical marijuana dealers.

Where, exactly, did the young patients get their marijuana? We have our suspicions, but we can’t report anything definitive. Directly asking youth where they scored their weed opens new concerns that must be examined by the Institutional Review Board, which assesses the ethics of medical research. However, this is an important study that should be conducted as soon as possible.

I continue to maintain this position: Colorado has done a poor job of regulating its medical-marijuana market, and its youth are paying a steep price. Legalizing the drug for recreational use would compound already very serious health problems for this state’s young people.

My thanks to the expert Colorado researchers who co-authored this study: Stacy Salomonsen-Sautel, Ph.D; Joseph T. Sakai, M.D.; Robin Corley, Ph.D.; and Christian Hopfer, M.D.


About Chris Thurstone

Dr. Christian Thurstone is one of only a few dozen physicians in the United States who are board-certified in general, child and adolescent and addictions psychiatry. He is Director of Behavioral Health Services at Denver Health and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado, where he conducts research on youth substance use and addiction and serves as director of medical training for the university’s addiction psychiatry fellowship program. You can read more about him here.

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