According to a new study, teenagers in substance abuse treatment often use medical marijuana recommended to someone else – “diverted” medical marijuana.

The study, conducted by Stacy Salomonsen-Sautel, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and her colleagues in the Department of Psychiatry, examined 164 adolescent who were in one of two substance abuse treatment programs in the Denver metropolitan area.

The researchers found that 73.8% of study participants used medical marijuana that had been prescribed to someone else. In addition, participants reported using the marijuana a median of 50 times.

According to the researchers, participants who used marijuana on a regular basis began using the drug at a younger age compared with participants who did not use marijuana.

In addition, the team found that those who used medical marijuana were more likely to abuse the drug or be dependent on it than those who did not use it. Adolescent who used marijuana also had more conduct disorder symptoms.

Furthermore, the majority of participants stated that smoking the drug posed slight or no risk of harm to themselves.

Salomonsen-Sautel explained:

“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.”

In Colorado, recent state and federal policy changes have allowed for more widespread legalized medical marijuana. According to the researchers only 41 participants of the study held valid registry identification cards for medical marijuana at the time of the study, indicating that teenagers who use medical marijuana are more likely to obtain it from adult registered users than from other adolescents.

Furthermore, the teams findings raises questions regarding the adequacy of the safeguards meant to prevent medical marijuana use by those to whom it was not recommended. The researchers state that in Colorado, medical marijuana is not treated like other medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Once an individual is approved for medical marijuana usage, they are able to grow a personal supply or purchase different amounts.

Written by Petra Rattue