Prevention & Education

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Legal does not mean safe: Talking to teens about marijuana

Oct 29, 2014


Chicago Sun Times - Marijuana is in the news daily. While only Colorado and Washington State have legalized marijuana for recreational use, 18 other states, including Illinois, will permit its medical use. These new laws have caused many young people to believe that marijuana is safe. To make informed decisions about marijuana use, parents and young people need to understand the facts.

1. Many medicines can be dangerous
Prescription opioid pain pills are valuable medicines to treat post-surgical patients, but are responsible for more overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin combined. Barbiturates are essential for treating epilepsy, but are extremely addictive and can cause lethal overdoses if abused. Although marijuana’s active components, cannabinoids, can be used to treat the pain and nausea of cancer patients, nerve pain and some seizure disorders, and to increase the appetite of HIV patients, that does not mean it’s safe for non-medical, unmonitored use.
2. There are many concerns about marijuana’s effects on the brain and body.
In everyone’s brain there are receptors (like electrical outlets) for our bodies’ normal brain chemicals. When brain chemicals “plug” into the receptors, the nerve cells are activated. Cannabinoids are shaped like our natural brain chemicals so they “fit” the outlet-like receptors in our brain. The greatest amount of these receptors are found in the areas that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. Marijuana overstimulates these receptors, causing the “high” as well as impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupted learning and memory. These effects make driving “high” extremely dangerous.
3. Emergency room visits related to use of marijuana numbered 455,668 in the past year in our country.
Marijuana potency has changed. According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the THC level in Marijuana was below 4 percent in the 1980s. Marijuana today is typically more than 10 percent. The fact that THC is stored in the body’s fatty tissues means it stays in the body longer than some other drugs. In addition, when THC is incorporated into edible forms like candy and bakery, the amount of THC is often concentrated. This potent marijuana causes a more powerful high, but there are hidden dangers. In one Colorado hospital, six critically ill young children were hospitalized in the first five months of the year due to eating marijuana laced foods.
4. Teen brains are especially susceptible to damage from drug use of all types, including marijuana.
A recent study of marijuana users who began using in adolescence revealed damage in the brain areas responsible for learning and memory in adulthood. A large study in New Zealand showed that people who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teens lost an average of 8 points in IQ between age 13 and age 38. More importantly, a study from Northwestern University found abnormalities in brain structure and memory problems two years after the heavy marijuana users had stopped smoking pot as teenagers. As teens use ever more potent marijuana, this damage will increase proportionately.
5. Marijuana smoke contains most of the same lung-damaging chemicals found in cigarette smoke.
Because marijuana smokers inhale deeply and hold the smoke in their lungs longer than cigarette smokers do, the damage to lung tissue from one marijuana joint is about 3 to 5 times greater than one cigarette. Studies find lung diseases in marijuana smokers that are similar to tobacco smokers and many scientists believe cancerous growths are more likely to be found in marijuana smokers.
When states legalize medical marijuana or recreational marijuana, teens may believe that these laws mean marijuana is safe. Teens are especially at risk from the neurological impact of THC due to the immaturity of their brains, and the damage done by marijuana in the teen brain may be long lasting or permanent. Many states have legalized marijuana for medical use, but that does not mean it is safe.

“If you choose to consume, please do so responsibly.” 

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