As marijuana legalization sweeps the nation, physicians and public health officials are sounding alarms about its potentially harmful effects on young people. Counselors are trying different approaches to address and treat use and addiction among adolescents, reports Stateline. At Bruce Randolph School, a majority Hispanic high school in a gang-plagued neighborhood in Denver, there’s always a waiting list to see counselor Amanda Ingram and her therapy dog, Pauletta. Students visit her during breaks in classes to talk about family and social troubles while they play with the big black Labrador retriever. “With Pauletta here, they don’t have to look at me,” Ingram said. “It makes it easier for them to talk about uncomfortable issues.” One issue they rarely talk directly about is their marijuana use, although Ingram is a drug and alcohol counselor. “They’re teenagers,” she said. “If I told them they needed to cut back or quit using pot, they’d never do it. And they probably wouldn’t come back.”
Dr. Christian Thurstone, a pediatric addiction psychiatrist at Denver Health Medical Center who treats teens and works with counselors in six local high schools, sees a link between growing addiction to marijuana among teens and the state’s decision to make it legal. Since the state allowed private companies to market and sell medical marijuana in 2010, the number of adolescents coming to Denver Health seeking treatment for marijuana dependence has doubled. Thurstone, an adviser to Colorado’s public health department and an outspoken opponent of legalization, said that even if the number of teens using marijuana has remained the same, the number seeking treatment for their addiction and the severity of their symptoms has increased dramatically. The good news is that treatment for marijuana addiction in adolescence works, Thurstone said. “We just need more of it.” Nationwide, only one in 10 people with an addiction seek treatment.