What parents should know about marijuana

As of Jan. 1, those 21 and older in Illinois are able to legally purchase cannabis (marijuana) from licensed dispensaries. While the state now permits the sale of nonmedical or recreational marijuana, it's important for parents and caregivers to know the health risks and consequences associated with this addictive drug.

“We know that long-term use of marijuana starting in adolescence is associated with cognitive deficits that impair learning and work efforts and may not resolve by adulthood, even when marijuana use is ceased,” says Dr. Maria H. Rahmandar, medical director, Substance Use & Prevention Program, The Potocsnak Family Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine.

In addition, use of marijuana in pregnancy is associated with poor fetal growth, low birth weight and greater need for newborn intensive care for infants. “Studies have shown that children exposed to marijuana in the womb are more likely to have problems with verbal reasoning, comprehension and short-term memory,” Rahmandar says.

A parent, guardian and/or caregiver can serve an integral role to prevent use of marijuana by children and adolescents. “Often marijuana is the first drug tried by young people, and it's often believed to be nonaddictive or harmless, which is not true,” Rahmandar says. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, short- and long-term recreational use of marijuana in adolescents can be addictive and can cause:

• Impaired short-term memory, decreased concentration and attention span that affects learning.

• Impaired judgment and motor control.

• Cause serious harm to lungs.

• Increase rates of psychosis (i.e. depression, anxiety or schizophrenia).

• Higher likelihood for drug dependence into adulthood.

• Higher likelihood for dropping out of high school.

• Gateway drug to try other more illicit drugs.

• Increase in suicide attempts.

Regular use of marijuana can alter an adolescent's still growing and developing brain. Adults should take the following steps to help prevent a child or teen's use of marijuana and/or other drugs:

• Communicate with your child or teen about the consequences and dangers of drug use.

• Instill strong values and set expectations with your child or adolescent.

• Don't hide the truth. Be honest and share teachable moments.

• Help your child prepare for peer pressure.

• Address emotions and share with your young person how to express feelings to resolve problems.

• Set positive examples by avoiding use of tobacco and illicit drugs, and minimize alcohol use.

If you think your child or teen is using drugs, seek help and share concerns with a professional, trusted health care provider.

About SUPP

The Substance Use and Prevention Program provides comprehensive and holistic care for patients and families. As a specialty program within The Potocsnak Family Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, SUPP utilizes a multidisciplinary team to address the complex needs of those experiencing substance use disorders. We provide every adolescent that comes through our program with current and evidence-based care for addiction treatment and prevention.

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. To check out more information, please visit

Dr. Maria Rahmandar, Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago
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