Legalization of marijuana and schizophrenia

Author(s): Susan A. Pappas, RN, BSN

The legalization of marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes is a hot topic in many states. As a mother and healthcare professional, I feel it is imperative that society be educated about the danger that marijuana poses to the adolescent population; schizophrenia. Through research and care of adolescents, I have learned that this is a very real issue that needs to be addressed. Education is how we can protect our youth!

Schizophrenia affects approximately 1% of the population (men and women equally). In adolescence the brain changes significantly (changes in the limbic system may affect self-control, decision making, emotions, and risk-taking behavior and myelin synthesis in the frontal lobe also occurs at this time which is where cognitive processes take place). These shifts can trigger schizophrenia in those at risk. For some that develop schizophrenia, there is a family history, but this is not always the case. Marijuana use has been studied and found to be a stressor (trigger) which when coupled with other variables (such as family history) can lead to the development of this disease.

In 2012 governor Dannel Malloy signed into law House Bill 5389 (to legalize medical marijuana in Connecticut), in 2016 governor Malloy signed House Bill 5450 (allowing patients under 18 to get legal access to medical marijuana). There are presently a number of house bills regarding the legalization of recreational use of marijuana that will be discussed and possibly signed into law in the near future (H.B. 05595 – An Act Authorizing and Regulating the Retail Sale of Marijuana) is one such bill. These are a few examples of bills that may be in other states also. Although marijuana is presently used by many people, the legalization of marijuana will change how the drug is handled. For instance, more homes will have it stored and available to adolescents, intended or not.

Education is important because every one of us can do something to combat the onset of schizophrenia in as many adolescents as possible. This can be accomplished by educating adults (to discourage marijuana use in adolescents and properly store marijuana and the paraphernalia which is used with it) and educating adolescents to the dangers of this drug (possibility of developing schizophrenia). By educating as many people as possible, positive changes in protecting our youth can be made; adults may be more careful with their use and storage of marijuana, and education may deter some adolescents from using the drug, thereby avoiding development of this disease.

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Legalization of recreational marijuana makes the drug more accessible. With this access, there is also an obligation to educate. I ask for your support in helping to educate adults and adolescents regarding the risks of using marijuana during adolescence. Please contact your representatives, local and national, and let them know that our adolescent population needs to be protected! Ask them to research and make available information in the form of school seminars or assemblies and town meetings to help combat this disease. Talk to friends, neighbors, teachers and other school families and spread the word about marijuana use and the danger of exposure to our youth; it is not the benign drug most people purport it to be.

Susan A. Pappas, RN, BSN
PMHNP Student (graduating in December 2019)

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