From Legalization to JUULs – Marijuana Landscape Keeps Shifting for Concerned Parents
Legalization of recreational marijuana use has led to an explosion of new products, supposedly designed for adult convenience yet with clear appeal to teenagers. When combined with easier access to marijuana in general, these products, from “candies” to vape pens, can lead to increased teenage use. JUUL is just the latest “smokeless” vapor pen that combines “harmless fun factor” appeal with the ability to cloak use completely. The Sacramento County Coalition for Youth (SCCY) encourages all parents to learn more about available marijuana products and trends in teen use. Given its wide-ranging presence in youth culture, marijuana use in all its forms should be at the forefront of parent-teenager discussions.
But I Don’t Even Smoke
The recreational marijuana business has given rise to a vast and diverse market of edible THC. These products, which often carry higher concentrations than the buds themselves, include everything from baked goods to candies to beverages. Like so much of marketing, catchy names, flashy packaging, even highly produced social media campaigns appeal directly to youth. This market has grown so quickly that it complicates regulation, thus leading to potential inconsistencies within an already hazy market. For example, a single serving size is defined by how much THC it possesses, and so, serving sizes are very small and do not match how most people eat (i.e. a portion of a candy bar rather than the entire thing). Studies indicate kids are also prone to “stacking” – imbibing excessive amounts because the THC doesn’t take effect immediately after consumption.
And there’s another reason teenage use of edibles is dangerous for themselves and those around them. Accidental ingestion can not only lead a peer to a socially, mentally and potentially psychologically devastating experience, small siblings and other children have proven among the most vulnerable. In Colorado, this alarming trend is detailed in a dramatic increase in ER visits and poison control emergencies. The sneaking of a gummy bear or chocolate bar from an older sibling’s dresser drawer can prove devastating for both the young child and the teenager responsible for the emergency.
But I Don’t Even Smoke Part II
A vape pen is an odorless, smokeless pipe created to completely mask marijuana and nicotine use. The battery-powered, easily concealed device is also marketed heavily to kids, teens who often face significant pressure to “vape” or use the new and trendy “JUUL.” Both vape pens and JUULs are designed to look like an innocuous accessory, as easily concealed as a computer’s memory stick, which, not surprisingly, they appear at first glance to be. Just when it appeared children universally understood the dangers of smoking, along comes a hip, heavily marketed device to suggest sucking chemicals, natural or otherwise, into one’s lungs isn’t so bad.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. Vaping pens can also be modified to add marijuana and maximize concentrations of THC. These levels can reach an astounding 90% THC concentration, well beyond what dried cannabis leaves produce, and can have a potentially catastrophic effect on a teenager’s mind. Like edibles, vapes and JUULs are so new to the market that long-term studies are unavailable. However similar research does clearly indicate that higher concentrations of THC result in greater frequency of aforementioned consequences.
The numbers don’t lie. In the ʼ80s, an average of 4% of THC was extracted, compared to an average of 15% or more today. Like vaping, “dabbing,” which is imbibing in “wax,” or extracts that contain the much higher concentrations of THC, is also trending, a growing concern among public and health officials.
What to Do
As parents, we must increase our vigilance for these new methods of using marijuana and conduct frank conversations with our children about how the consequences are the same. Despite the appealing packaging, these new methods have the potential to damage a young developing brain, leading to poor decision making and impaired cognitive ability. The Sacramento County Coalition for Youth offers detailed guidelines about how to talk with our teenagers about marijuana, in addition to links to current research, teen trends and other information.