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San Diego health officials remind parents of the risks of teen marijuana use

Marijuana at Tradecraft Farms on November 6, 2019 in Vista, California.
Marijuana at Tradecraft Farms on November 6, 2019 in Vista, California.
(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Parents encouraged to talk to their kids early and often to prevent substance abuse

San Diego health officials last week highlighted the mental health-related risks of marijuana, particularly frequent use of high-potency cannabis among youth.

The potency of cannabis — measured by the amount of THC found in products — has been on the rise for years, with a roughly 0.20 percent increase every year from 1970 to 2017, according to a study published by the Society for the Study of Addiction. THC is the chemical that gives cannabis its effect.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which cites various studies, regular use of marijuana, especially high-potency cannabis, is a risk factor for psychosis and mental health disorders such as schizophrenia.

Among youth, the risk is greater.

It’s for this reason that officials with Family Health Centers of San Diego, Scripps Mercy Hospital and Marijuana Prevention Initiative urged parents last week to talk to their children early and often about the risks. The Marijuana Prevention Initiative held a news conference Thursday at the City Heights Family Health Center.

“Not all smokers get lung cancer, but it’s a risk. Similarly, not everyone who uses cannabis will get psychosis, but the risk is significant,” said Dr. Joe Sepulveda, Family Health Centers’ chief of psychiatry and medical director for Substance Use Disorder Services.

Marijuana was the primary substance used by youth ages 12 to 17 in San Diego County treatment programs in 2020-21, according to county data.

Parent Adriana Ching spoke at the news conference and recalled that she found out her son, who is now 24, was smoking marijuana when he was a sophomore in high school. Since then, he has struggled with cannabis-induced psychosis, she said, and has been hospitalized four times — twice on psychiatric holds.

Ching said her son has completed two residential treatment programs, tried several alternative therapies and various anti-psychotic medications to manage paranoia, delusions and voices only he can hear.

“I am here to tell you that this harm is real,” Ching said, “and the data that supports the risks of early exposure to cannabis is undeniable.”

Sepulveda and Dr. Roneet Lev, an emergency and addiction physician at Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego, said they treat patients with cannabis-induced conditions, including psychosis, every day.

The problem is not just that marijuana is a risk factor for conditions like psychosis. Lev said people with schizophrenia, psychosis and bipolar disorder should not use THC because it could make their conditions worse. Sepulveda added that cannabis can make medications used to treat mental health conditions less effective.

The Marijuana Prevention Initiative held the event to commemorate Suicide Prevention Month. According to the county Medical Examiner’s Office, almost 40 percent of of people who died of suicide under the age of 25 in 2020 tested positive for THC. The chemical was also the No. 1 drug found in the systems of people under 25 who died of suicide.

The San Diego Access and Crisis Line is available seven days a week, 24 hours a day at (888) 724-7240. Resources can also be found online at sandiegocounty.gov/hhsa/programs/bhs or by phone at 211.


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