SAN DIEGO — September is Suicide Awareness Month, and San Diego health experts all came together Thursday at the City Heights Family Health Centers of San Diego to inform parents about the risks of marijuana use on youth mental health.
Experts have said they have seen a link to mental health and marijuana use.
“Every day I treat patients who suffer from cannabis use disorder,” said Dr. Joe Sepulveda, chief of psychiatry and medical director for substance use disorder services at Family Health Centers San Diego.
Dr. Roneet Lev, with Scripps Hospital Emergency Room, wants to make sure parents and youth are making informed decisions and understand the risks.
During Thursday’s event, doctors laid out the relationship between marijuana use and youth mental health. Lev warned that cannabis use is a suicide risk factor for people under the age of 25. Doctors said that Cannabis Use Disorder and daily cannabis use were associated with suicidal thoughts, plans or attempts in people 18 to 35 years old, with or without underlying major depression. The FDA warns people with psychiatric history should avoid even prescription level THC.
“People who have a mental illness can exacerbate their condition by using THC,” Lev said.
Experts warn that THC is also getting stronger. The Department of Justice found that the average potency levels in marijuana has increased from 8.9% to 12.1% between 2008 to 2017.
One parent who spoke at the event took notice of that fact for his oldest son.
“It’s often the start of a decent into a living hell that shreds joy, friendships, academic and career potential to pieces, and breaks a family’s heart forever,” the parent said.
The parents said his son earned a pilot licenses at 17 years old, had academic goals, but quickly became addicted to vaping.
“And then things got worse. He abandoned college after one semester, moved back home, smoked non-stop. Alienating himself from his friends, spent all his money and much of hours and became truly psychotic. Stripping naked on the street, fighting family and friends,” the parent said.
Lev also warned that high potency THC is a risk factor for developing psychosis in youth.
“And it can become permanent even in young people who have no underlying mental illness,” Lev said.
Experts advise not to shy away from substance use conversations, but to instead have discussions early and often with youth.
“To be honest and open with your health care provider, if you do expect use, it’s important to have the conversation, don’t think you are weird,” said Joe Eberstein, senior program manager for Marijuana Prevention Initiative.
“Our son is slowly getting better, despite nine months without weed, and the same time working a full-time job. He doesn’t feel anything anymore. He regularly thinks one way out is death, but loves his family enough to know that that’s not a solution,” the parent added.
Experts acknowledge more research into marijuana use and mental health is needed.
However, Eberstein noted that marijuana use can interfere with common mental health medication, and parents should be aware of the fact.
Important note: If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, please remember help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also call a loved one, member of the clergy or 911.