Diverted Medical Marijuana

Teens with substance use disorders are easily able to get their hands on medical marijuana

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Regulations in Colorado have not been successful in keeping teens in substance abuse treatment programs from illegally getting their hands on medical marijuana. But can new laws really help?

A recent study found that approximately 74 percent of 14- to 18-year-old teens used medical marijuana while in substance abuse treatment programs.

These teens admitted to using another person's medical marijuana 50 times or so.

"Never use another person’s prescription medication."

Stacy Salomonsen-Sautel, PhD, senior professional research assistant in the department of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, led an investigation into the illegal use of medical marijuana by teenagers.

For the study, 164 teens aged 14-18, who were enrolled in substance abuse treatment programs in Denver, answered surveys about whether they used medical marijuana.

Around 74 percent of the group reported they had used another person’s medical marijuana, or diverted marijuana, around 50 times.

For the most part, the teens that had misused medical marijuana had started using marijuana at a younger age, used it frequently and had more conduct disorder symptoms than teens in the group who did not use medical marijuana.

Dr. Salomonsen-Sautel said, “Many high-risk adolescent patients in substance abuse treatment have used diverted medical marijuana on multiple occasions, which implies that substantial diversion is occurring from registered users.”

“Our results support the need for policy changes that protect against diversion of medical marijuana to adolescents.”

Colorado’s regulation of medical marijuana does not parallel prescription regulations, which are very specific.

Dosage restrictions for medical marijuana allow a person with a prescription, including 41 registered minors, access to two ounces and up to six plants at a time.

Dr. Salomonsen-Sautel’s study concluded that a revamping of current medical marijuana policy was necessary to make it more difficult for minors with substance use disorders to obtain medical marijuana.

Dr. Darold Treffert said, "The substantial diversion of medical marijuana to teens is an entirely predictable but highly regrettable consequence of the medical marijuana debacle. Adolescents take the message that if marijuana is good for sick people, it can't be all that bad for the rest of us, giving smoked marijuana a legitimacy it doesn't deserve."

This study was published in July in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Funding for this study was provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 8, 2012
Last Updated:
April 23, 2013