Guest Opinions

Pot isn’t harmless, nor is it a simple way to boost tax revenue

Though medical and recreational pot have become legal in several Western states — such as this Los Angeles dispensary — a retired Nampa pediatrician has concerns about this cultural shift, especially its potential negative impact on teens. (AP)
Though medical and recreational pot have become legal in several Western states — such as this Los Angeles dispensary — a retired Nampa pediatrician has concerns about this cultural shift, especially its potential negative impact on teens. (AP)

Following changes in perception and policy regarding marijuana use in America, I did some investigating this past winter. Being a retired pediatrician, my primary focus was upon usage by adolescents.

In 2016, the annual Adolescent Drug Use Survey (ADUS) reported 22 percent of 12th-graders used marijuana in the previous 30 days. It is commonly used. Short-term effects of usage consist of impaired short-term memory, decreased concentration and impaired problem-solving ability. These effects are worst on the day of use but persist for several days. Performance testing shows altered coordination, judgment, reaction time and tracking ability. The long-term effects on teens are even more concerning. Multiple studies confirm decreased rates of high school completion and increased rates of using other illicit drugs. One in six youth become unable to stop using marijuana. This incidence worsens to one in two to four among daily teen users. Marijuana dependence occurs because of symptoms of irritability, sleep disorder, cravings, mood changes and anxiety upon attempting to abstain. Drug rehabilitation is often required.

What happens if medical or recreational marijuana becomes available in Idaho? The American Academy of Pediatrics notes there are several potential restraining factors in illicit teen drug usage including legal status, availability, ease of access and perception of harm. All of these restraining factors diminish with legalization. Perception of harm in smoking marijuana has decreased in teens from 52 percent in 2009 to 31 percent in 2016. In comparing the same time period and the same 12th-grader group, the perception of harm for cigarette smoking remained at 75 percent. The marijuana industries’ marketing is succeeding. Upon looking at alcohol vs. marijuana usage, one finds similar levels of abuse. Thirty-three percent of 12th-graders report drinking alcohol in the last 30 days as opposed to 22 percent smoking marijuana. Twenty percent of these alcohol users report being drunk. The message being that marijuana is already as available as alcohol without being legalized in most states.

There is one last troublesome fact. Marijuana has become more potent. Levels of THC, the primary active ingredient in marijuana, have increased from 3 percent in the 1980s to 15-20 percent in current varieties of marijuana. Higher concentration of THC results in greater intoxicating effects.

In closing, here is a brief comment on legalization of medical marijuana. Medical use of marijuana is a developing field with a very active research program. THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, has been confirmed to be beneficial in treating nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, for use in stimulating appetite for those with chronic disease, in treating severe chronic pain, as a muscle relaxant in multiple sclerosis, and rarely in treating epilepsy. THC is available medically as a prescription in Idaho under the name of dronabinol.

In conclusion I hope that the public realizes marijuana is not a harmless substance, nor is it a facile means of gaining tax revenue.

Joseph L. Papiez was a pediatrician in Nampa for 36 years and is now retired.

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