The communities on the North Shore continue to struggle with teen marijuana use and the continued national move toward legalization of this drug only adds to this challenge. The Marblehead Cares Coalition will be addressing this issue in September, when it presents noted Psychiatrist Jefferson Prince to talk on Teen Brain Development and the effects alcohol and other drugs can have on developing central nervous systems. Dr. Prince, on staff at the North Shore Medical Center and a panel of local experts will describe some of the current research on this subject and provide suggestions on how to keep youngsters safe.
A recent Boston Globe article carried a story titled “Loosening of marijuana laws complicates parent-child talks”. This Denver based article by David Crary of the Associated Press relates how parents are needing to discuss drug use with their children at younger ages than originally anticipated. Additional challenges are noted in the states (including Colorado) where medical marijuana has been legalized. How to explain to your children that marijuana is harmful in some circumstances but not in others is noted as especially difficult.
The following information should provide any parent with the facts necessary to educate their child about the risks of marijuana use. This information is all based on research.
1.It is well documented that the chemicals in marijuana present a much greater danger than those in cigarettes. In addition to the physical risks, regular users of cannabis are jeopardizing their immune systems, their nervous systems and, ultimately their brain. Although it might not actually “rot your brain” as we were told in the 60′s, it does impair cognition that can negatively effect memory and concentration.
2.For some people, smoking a small amount of marijuana, occasionally (e.g. less than once per month) may not cause any difficulties. However, most of the people running into trouble with marijuana are youngsters,often between the ages of 14-17. Developmentally, it is during these years that we learn to handle emotions. Boredom, loneliness, anger, sadness are part of the human experience. If we learn to handle these emotions by using a drug, we never develop the abilities, psychologically or physically to manage them naturally. This is, in part what can lead to a dependence or addiction to marijuana. Research has shown that approximately ½ of those who use cannabis more than monthly demonstrate emotional or behavioral problems.
3. Marijuana interferes with your ability to achieve sufficient and restful sleep, vital to the body’s physical development, the immune system and ongoing cognitive abilities.
4. The marijuana currently available is very different from what Mom and Dad smoked in the 60′s and 70′s. The percentage of the active ingredient, THC is much higher in modern weed, making it much more potent. In addition to the usual risks of putting smoke into your lungs, which to most people is pretty obvious, there are other dangers as well. It is not uncommon for people to spray Windex onto marijuana they sell or give to someone else to exact revenge for some slight or alleged misbehavior. Others sometime add PCP (Angel Dust) to joints for the entertainment value of watching someone experience a bad PCP trip.
5. More recent research has shown that marijuana has an addictive quality when used to excess. It impedes and in some cases shuts off the body’s production and use of the neurotransmitter Dopamine, which has a naturally calming effect. Without the normal production of Dopamine, our body experiences increased anxiety and feelings of panic. One colleague refers to marijuana as a “panic generator”. Heavy users can actually create a diagnosable anxiety disorder in themselves that will require medication to overcome.
In many ways, marijuana is no different from alcohol. Used in moderation, its harmful effects are minimal. It is possible that the country is moving in the direction of legalizing marijuana use, much in the same way that alcohol use is legal. A law that decriminalizes marijuana possession and use for those over a certain age (25 is developmentally appropriate), requires special licenses to sell it and prohibits its use when operating machines or motor vehicles might make sense.
But how good a job have we done keeping alcohol out of the hands of young people?
Information from the Partnership at Drugfree.org illuminates our failures in this area. If we can’t keep one dangerous drug away from kids, how can we expect to do the same with another similar drug? The debate is heating up with many questions and few decent answers. Until the adults get this sorted out, parents need to continue to discuss these issues with their children and make sure they know that use of any of these substances while their brains are still developing, is a bad idea.