Two Pediatricians return from Boston: dispelling myths about pot, steroids and prescription drugs

We’re back from the national American Academy of Pediatrics conference in Boston and we’re galvanized to make a positive impact on youth.  Just in time for Red Ribbon Week, the national campaign for halting substance abuse Oct 23-31 (, we bring you facts for you to use as you talk about three drugs kids generally consider “harmless”: marijuana, anabolic steroids, and prescription medications.


Marijuana: In 2010, one out of five high school seniors and eight percent of eight graders reported using marjuana. Unlike popular belief, marijuana is addictive. Use starting in adolescence is associated with an almost 20 percent risk of dependence. It’s strong stuff. As little as five uses of pot can lead to addiction and withdrawal symptoms are similar to withdrawal symptoms from heroin.  The good news is that a teen can withdraw safely at home. If your kid tells you he is not addicted and can quit at any time, challenge him to stop smoking for two weeks. If he can’t, then he is in deeper than he realizes.


Pot clouds up the brain and makes it more difficult to remember recent events.  Although kids say they can drive after smoking weed, their reaction time is impaired, just as it is with alcohol use. In the past researchers thought brains did not develop much in adolescence.  However, brain development does continue to the early twenties, and pot can affect that development by altering mood and executive function (planning) centers in the brain. In short, marijuana causes brain damage.


Steroids: It’s just as likely to be the kid who wants to look “buff,” and not just the athlete who wants to play better, who uses anabolic steroids.  Addiction does occur… and in a lot of users. One-third of all users end up addicted.  Not only do steroids affect muscles, but also they affect the brain. Adolescents are already known for emotional volatility and steroids heighten aggressiveness.  Additionally, sex organs pay a price for steroid. In males, testicles can atrophy and breast development can occur. For females, non-reversible facial hair growth and deepening of voice are side effects.


Prescription medications: Throw away those unused prescription pain killers and lock up controlled substances still in use.  Prescription medications seem unintimidating to kids because they are prescribed legally and they see their parents taking them. Over the last few years, reported use of Vicodin in the past year by 12th graders ranged from about eight to ten percent.  Deaths occur from overdose or from accidents from impaired driving. 


Data show teens listen to advice they hear from their parents and their pediatricians, even if they sometimes take time to digest and act on that advice. We pledge to do our part when we talk to your kids about the harmful effects of drug use. We urge you to continue communicating with your children, even if they are away at college. One helpful website to assist you in talking to your kids about drugs is The National Institute on Drug Abuse:

Culled from talks given at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Convention and Exibition, 2011, by Patricia Kokotailo, MD, MPH and Greg Landry, MD, FAAP University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI,  John Kulig MD, MPH,FAAP, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston. If you live in the Central Bucks area of Pennsylvania contact CBCares for more information on local Red Ribbon Week events. 


Naline Lai, MD and Julie Kardos, MD

©2011 Two Peds in a Pod®

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