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Marijuana: Still an Issue for Our Youth

April 26, 2013  |  Falmouth Enterprise

By Dr. Michael Bihari

Now that medical marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, many towns across the state are struggling with how to manage and regulate the places where marijuana can be purchased with a physician's prescription. The norm seems to be wider acceptance of marijuana both for health purposes and as a recreational drug. However, marijuana continues to be an issue for adolescents.

Some Facts About Marijuana

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the country: more than 107 million Americans have tried it at least once and about 2.6 million Americans used pot for the first time in 2011.

After alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly abused substance by teens.

Marijuana affects the brain: Pot alters short-term memory and judgment, and can impair coordination and balance.

Marijuana's Affect on Youth

Marijuana Affects Learning and Motivation

Teens who use pot on a regular basis may have lower grades, higher school drop out rates, and over time, problems with career achievement. Teens who use marijuana find it difficult to remember things that just happened, making it hard to follow classwork or pay attention while playing sports.

Marijuana May Lower IQ

Adolescents' brains are maturing and the use of pot may interfere with normal brain development through the mid-20s. Although some of the scientific studies are controversial, persistent marijuana use through adulthood can drop a user's IQ by as much as 8 points. Quitting or cutting back on marijuana after adolescence does not seem to help much; intellectual functioning may never came back to previous levels.

Marijuana Is Addictive

About 1 in 6 people who start using pot as a teen become addicted. For some who are addicted, it may be hard to quit because of symptoms such as irritability, difficulty sleeping, craving, anxiety, and aggressive behavior.

Marijuana and Driving Do Not Mix

Pot doubles the risk of car crashes and is the most common illegal drug found in drivers who die in accidents.

Marijuana Can Affect Judgment and Decision Making

Using pot can cause teens to do things they might not do when they are thinking straight such as engaging in risky sexual behavior or getting in a car with someone who's been drinking or is high on marijuana.

Marijuana Users Are at Risk of Injuring Their Lungs

The smoke from marijuana contains some of the same chemicals found in tobacco smoke and increases the chances of breathing problems such as chest colds, coughs, and bronchitis.

Does Using Marijuana Lead to the Use of Other Drugs?

Most young people who use marijuana do not go on to use other drugs, however, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • Studies of high school students show that few young people use other illegal drugs without first trying marijuana. For example, the risk of using cocaine is much greater for those who have tried marijuana than for those who have never tried it.
  • Using marijuana puts children and teens in contact with people who use and sell other drugs. So, a person who uses marijuana is more likely to be exposed to and urged to try other drugs.

What's Happening in Falmouth?

The good news is that the majority of teens in Falmouth do not use marijuana.

However, the challenge is that a significantly higher percentage of Falmouth youth use marijuana compared to teens in Massachusetts and nationwide.

In 2011, the Falmouth Prevention Partnership surveyed students at Falmouth High School and Falmouth Academy about substance abuse, including marijuana. One of the questions focused on a teen's use of marijuana in the 30 days prior to the survey. The results are worrisome, especially when compared to the state and the country as a whole.

In Falmouth, 37% of high school students used marijuana in the past 30 days, compared to Massachusetts at 27% and nationally at 23%. Read the complete summary of the surveys conducted in Falmouth schools.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCE

Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know: An online brochure in question-and-answer format that provides facts about marijuana for parents and offers tips for talking with your children about pot and its potential harmful effects.

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