Health: Legalization of cannabis: Parents worry about children

You know it from before: you were actually much too small, but curious - and really wanted to try dad's beer.

Health: Legalization of cannabis: Parents worry about children

You know it from before: you were actually much too small, but curious - and really wanted to try dad's beer. At some point it softened and you tasted your first sip. It usually didn't taste good, but it was clear that alcohol was somehow part of it.

Is this happening again now - because of the planned legalization of cannabis? Will clouds of marijuana soon sweep through residential areas and be a sign to children and young people that smoking weed is completely normal? Many parents may have this concern. Experts also have concerns. And the younger the consumers, the greater the risks.

Parents worried

Cannabis is a psychoactive substance from the hemp plant that can be addictive. Almost two thirds (63 percent) of parents with children under 18 fear that the inhibition threshold of minors will decrease if smoking weed becomes legal for adults, according to a Forsa survey presented in Hanover on behalf of the Kaufmännische Krankenkasse (KKH).

For the study, the opinion research institute surveyed 1,000 parents with children under 18 online and representatively nationwide from January 2nd to 16th. With 1.6 million insured people, the KKH is one of the largest nationwide health insurance funds.

Accordingly, 73 percent of parents fear brain damage to their offspring if they consume cannabis. Almost as many (70 percent) are worried about possible psychological problems such as mood swings or anxiety. At least 69 percent of parents fear that frequent use of cannabis will make children and young people addicted, and 64 percent think of a drop in performance at school.

Expert: Smoking weed impairs brain development

Such concerns are entirely justified: Brain researcher Martin Korte from the Technical University of Braunschweig explained that cannabinoids particularly affect the frontal lobe, an important part of the frontal brain:

"This region of the brain gives us the ability to plan actions, solve problems and control impulses. If young people smoke weed regularly, they risk a reduction in these abilities, they react more impulsively and are less able to concentrate on a task. Overall, their mental performance declines ." In addition, heavy cannabis consumption can activate regions of the brain that can trigger hallucinations and lead to psychotic symptoms.

Young adults are also gambling with their health if they smoke weed frequently, Korte warned. "The development of the frontal lobe is not complete until the mid-20s." The planned legalization of cannabis should apply from the age of 18 - even then the brain still reacts sensitively to drugs. The expert advises that the legal purchase of cannabis should only be permitted from the age of 25 at the earliest.

What is it about?

The law legalizing cannabis is due to come into force in Germany on April 1st. On Friday, after a long struggle, the traffic light coalition factions agreed on the final details. The law is scheduled to be passed in the Bundestag in the week starting February 19th.

With the agreement between the group experts, approval is considered reasonably certain. Home cultivation and possession of certain amounts of the drug should then be permitted for adults. Clubs for collective cultivation should also be possible on July 1st.

There were repeated appeals from politicians from various parties to stop the project. The Federal Medical Association, the German Association of Judges, the police union and doctors also warned.

According to the health insurance company, data from the KKH on its own insured people already shows a significant increase in the harmful use of cannabis among young people. In the 15 to 24 year old age group, the proportion of diagnoses due to acute intoxication, addiction, withdrawal symptoms or psychological problems after cannabis consumption rose from 0.2 to 0.5 percent between 2012 and 2022.

In absolute numbers, that's not an enormous number - in 2022 there were around 900 people affected in this age group. But the health insurance company explained: Only confirmed outpatient diagnoses were included in the analysis; the number of unreported cases is likely to be significantly higher.

Regulations in other countries

Other countries have already legalized cannabis. Uruguay was the first country in the world to legalize the consumption, sale and cultivation of cannabis in 2013. The Netherlands tolerated the sale and consumption of so-called soft drugs even earlier in the 1970s - the country has been considered a stoner's paradise for decades.

But: Coffee shops there are allowed to sell cannabis, but cultivation and wholesale are prohibited - the shops have to get their goods illegally. An experiment with the sale of legally grown marijuana began in December - coffee shops in Tilburg and Breda were allowed to sell legally grown drugs during the test phase. In Thailand, cannabis was removed from the list of illegal drugs in 2022. Business is also booming in parts of the USA.

Justin Onyechi from the health insurance company's prevention team emphasized that the risk of later addiction and the use of other drugs increases dramatically if cannabis is consumed regularly in adolescence. And there is something else that worries him: legalization should not have a negative impact on non-smoker protection and anti-smoking campaigns. Education about cannabis also includes the information that smoking is fatal - cannabis is often smoked in a joint mixed with tobacco.