Too-sleepy teens may be smoking pot, says new study

Too-sleepy teens may be smoking pot, says new study

A recent study at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, has found that marijuana is strongly associated with “excessive daytime sleepiness” in adolescents. Medical researchers at the hospital were trying to figure out why ordinary teens might suffer from a condition called narcolepsy – uncontrollably nodding off at unpredictable moments, sometimes in the middle of a conversation – since it’s predominantly a condition in adults, not kids. The researchers reviewed the last 10 years of sleep studies on 383 teenagers who had been sent to the hospital’s Sleep Center for excessive daytime sleepiness. They found that 10 percent of the kids who tested positive for narcolepsy also tested positive for marijuana. Also, nearly half of those kids who tested positive for marijuana – 43 percent to be exact – had abnormal sleep problems, some that were fully consistent with narcolepsy. Finally, boys were more likely than girls to have both a positive marijuana drug screen and the sleep disorder called narcolepsy.

Always check for drugs first, says doc

Now comes the good news: After taking part in drug counseling and cutting back or eliminating marijuana use, the weed smokers were apparently no longer affected by “excessive daytime sleepiness” or narcolepsy. Mark Splaingard, MD, a faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and director of the hospital’s sleep center, said that a diagnosis of narcolepsy in teens shouldn’t be accepted until the patient has been drug tested. Adult studies already have concluded that numerous medications as well as illicit drugs can affect results of sleep tests and can lead to a false diagnosis of narcolepsy, and it turns out the same holds true for kids. “Our findings highlight and support the important step of obtaining a urine drug screen, in any patients older than 13 years of age,” Dr. Splaingard said, “in any studies looking at the prevalence of narcolepsy in adolescents – especially with the recent trend in marijuana decriminalization and legalization.” A sleep study determines if someone has narcolepsy or some other excessive daytime sleep disorder. It involves coming to the sleep center for 4 or 5 days in a row and taking a nice afternoon nap while sleep specialists monitor several factors, such as how fast you fall asleep, how deep the sleep is (measured by Rapid Eye Movement or REM) and physical activity like jerking, frequent leg movements, rolling over and frequency of partially waking up and going back to sleep. “A key finding of this study is that marijuana use may be associated with excessive daytime sleepiness in some teenagers,” said Dr. Splaingard. “A negative urine drug screen finding is an important part of the clinical evaluation before accepting a diagnosis of narcolepsy and starting treatment in a teenager.” The message here is that anyone with teenage sons or daughters, or adolescent students, employees or friends who are nodding off during the day, should check on drug use by those kids first, before the time and expense of researching sleep disorders. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

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