Education

Medical marijuana can land in the hands of adolescent users, study shows

AURORA | Adolescents with access to medical marijuana that’s prescribed to someone else tend to start smoking at a younger age and are more susceptible to abuse, dependence and symptoms of conduct disorder.

That’s according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, that looked at the use of medical marijuana by adolescents aged 14 to 18 years old. Stacy Salomonsen-Sautel, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology, was the lead author of the study, which also involved input from the school’s Department of Psychiatry.

Conducted over a period of roughly 11 months, the study drew input from 164 adolescents, 121 of whom reported using medical marijuana that had been recommended or prescribed to someone else. The participants in the study came from two separate substance abuse programs in the metro area.

“Almost 74 percent of the patients had used somebody else’s medical marijuana,” Salomonsen-Sautel said, adding that the study referred to that phenomenon as “diverted” marijuana. “They used the diverted medical marijuana a median of 50 times. We had four patients who had tried to get a medical marijuana license. One patient did get a license.”

In comparing results from subjects who used diverted medical marijuana and those who used marijuana, but did not take it from another intended user, Salomonsen-Sautel said the researchers found trends that pointed to greater dependence. What’s more, those who used diverted marijuana showed a greater trend toward behavioral problems.

“What I found, after adjusting for gender, race and ethnicity, those who used medical marijuana were younger when they started to use marijuana on a regular basis,” Salomonsen-Sautel said, adding that a regular basis was defined as at least once a month. “They also had more conduct disorder symptoms. They also had more abuse or dependence symptoms.”

The study examines a relatively recent phenomenon in Colorado. With the recent rise of the medical marijuana industry in major Colorado cities like Denver, there’s a dearth of hard research regarding the impact on adolescents and other users, Salomonsen-Sautel said.

“I think it’s still a relatively new area. If you look at literature, there’s really not very much,” she said. “We said that one of the main points is that medical marijuana diversion is very common among adolescent patients. Our current system does not guard against it.”

Part of the reason may stem from a lack of regulation. Unlike other scheduled prescription medications, medical marijuana is not subject to a formal monitoring system under the FDA. Patients who receive a license can buy large amounts or grow marijuana in their homes.

A monitoring program similar to what’s in place for other controlled substances could help stem the impact of diverted medical marijuana on local adolescents, Salmonsen-Sautel said.

“We also mentioned best practice guidelines to recommend to physicians,” she said. “Recommended physicians could talk about possible risks of diversion.”

The study appeared in the July issue of the “Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,” and was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, with supplemental support from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at agoldstein@aurorasentinel.com or 720-449-9707

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  • Reality

    This study was sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. They looked for drug abused and found it.

    There should be a National Institute on Drug Benefits. I bet they could come out with a study says the exact opposite of the NDIA study…

  • Try again….

    FLAWS IN THIS ARTICLE

    1) “Once a month” defined as a regular basis.2) Pulled kids for the study from “two separate substance abuse programs in the metro area”
    3) “They also had more conduct disorder symptoms. They also had more abuse or dependence symptoms.”– Are these conduct disorder’s from being caught with marijuana and being sent to substance abuse programs t avoid legal ramfications?
    4) National Institute on Drug Abuse, with supplemental support from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
    5) The title “Medical Marijuana can land in the hands of adolescent users” — Marijuana, medical or not, can land in anyone’s hands who desires to smoke it regardless of age, sex, or ethnicity.
    6) “We said that one of the main points is that medical marijuana diversion is very common among adolescent patients. Our current system does not guard against it.”– adolescents get cards to buy marijuana for them and their friends, not to be patients (this is not always the case but let be realistic here, it happens). Our current system needs to legalize or decriminalize a legitimately safe substance so people don’t have do register to the state, and people can avoid the dangers of our corrupt “justice” system such as point #3.

    Please try to do more research before writing polarized articles to try and convince people that there are problems that aren’t really there.