Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Recreational marijuana has been legal in Montana since 2021, and since then, 59 cannabis dispensaries have opened in Missoula County, according to Leah Fitch-Brody, Substance Use Disorder Prevention Coordinator at Missoula Public Health.

Missoula was once the community with the highest number of cannabis dispensaries, but Fitch-Brody says that number has now been surpassed by Bozeman.

Fitch-Brody is concerned about the vast increase in potency of today’s marijuana compared to that produced in the 1970’s.

From 0 to 59 Cannabis Dispensaries in Missoula in Just Three Years

“Back in the 1970s we saw that marijuana was only about 1 to 3 percent THC which is the active ingredient, and nowadays there are some products, especially concentrates, that can have anywhere from 70 or 80 or up to 99 percent THC,” she said. “And so what does that mean for youth who are using these products at an early age?  The earlier that you start using a substance, the more likely you are to develop a substance use disorder later on in life.”

Fitch-Brody said parents need to give their children solid reasons why to avoid marijuana.

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She says Marijuana Affects the Young Brain in a Powerful Way

"We want parents to be able to talk to their kids about what is it that why is it that you might not want to start using early?" she asked. "So not to saying don't do it, but why not? And really looking at how does marijuana affect the young brain and it affects the young brain in many ways that it doesn't do the same to adults."

Fitch-Brody identified some troubling consequences for Missoula’s youth who are using marijuana.

Pot Use can Lead to Lower IQ, Depression, and even Suicidality

“We see a decrease in IQ,” she said. “We see more instances of youth dealing with depression, anxiety, and even suicidality. We have seen an increase in youth hospitalizations for teens, so for kids ages 15 to 19 in Missoula County, we saw an increase of 32 percent of them being hospitalized for marijuana and that's not something that a lot of people even consider.”

Fitch-Brody urges parents to visit a new website that can help them facilitate a discussion with their children about marijuana use.

“If they go to ‘Cann we chat. Org’,” she said. “That first page talks about some of the potential harms that can happen if somebody starts using cannabis early, and on a regular basis. It also covers what are some of the warning signs that your child might be using. In addition, if you are concerned about use, how to get help, so there's some local resources on there as well.”

Some of the topics covered on the Cann We Chat website include potency, memory loss, addiction, suicide, DUI, lower IQ, psychosis, anxiety, and dropping out.

A recent Fox News ‘Housecall for Health’ episode said cannabis use can also cause heart problems, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Fitch-Brody said the Health Missoula Youth Coalition is facilitated by the Substance Abuse Use Disorder program through Missoula Public Health.

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