Weeding Out the Myths of Marijuana
With some states now legalizing marijuana for recreational use, drug education has never been more critical. In fact, marijuana use now surpasses tobacco use for many young people.
Myth No. 1: Marijuana is “all natural” and therefore not really harmful.
Marijuana is stronger today than ever before. THC, the psychoactive or mind-altering part of the plant, previously hovered at around 3%. Now the average THC level is closer to 17%, with some plants testing between 20-30%. Marijuana is no longer “just a plant.” New forms of marijuana known as “concentrates” which go by names such as “budder”, “shadder”, or hash oil can contain up to 60-90% THC.
Myth No. 2: Marijuana is safer and better for you than cigarettes or alcohol.
Regular use of marijuana at a young age can create biochemical and structural changes to the brain. In fact, these effects are additive and dose dependent; the more you use, the more likely you are to create a change.
Marijuana causes intellectual impairment, harming memory, attention, critical-decision making, and learning. Scientists have coined this as the “dumbing down effect.” Marijuana is also linked to mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Research has shown that regular daily to weeky use of high potency marijuana can increase one’s risk of psychosis 3-5 times that of the general population.
The American Lung Association has reported that pot has many of the same cancer causing agents as tobacco smoke. Smoking marijuana deposits more tar in the lungs than traditional cigarettes and causes chronic cough, wheeze, phlegm production and frequent infections.
Temporal links have also been found between pot and arrhythmias, strokes, and other major cardiac events.
Myth No. 3: Marijuana isn’t habit-forming.
10% of adults and 17% of young adults who use marijuana will become addicted. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, with daily or near daily use the addiction rate climbs to 25-50%.
Addiction rates show that young people are more susceptible to marijuana addiction. The human brain is “under construction” until around the age of 25. When you use marijuana at a young age, neuronal changes occur that predispose dependency and addiction. In fact, the younger a person is when they start using pot, the more likely they are to become addicted.
Parents and education are the greatest factors in preventing drug use—so here’s a gameplan:
1. Talk early and often. Many risk-taking behaviors start in middle school.
2. Make rules on drug use and set clear consequence if these rules are broken.
3. Base drug education on facts. Check out the National Institute of Drug Abuse for up-to-date, reliable information. http://www.drugabuse.gov
4. Role-play real life situations so your teen is prepared when confronted with situations involving drugs.
Dr. Shannon Murphy is a board certified Pediatrician. She currently serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics Practice Advisory Committee for Adolescent Substance Use. With the Drug Education Council, she coordinates a non-profit coalition, SAM Alabama, whose goal is to educate parents and kids on the public health issues and safety concerns associated with marijuana.