With the increasingly relaxed laws on the use of marijuana, more youngsters are sampling weed with the idea that it’s safe. It’s not.
Dr. Garry Sigman, director of the Adolescent Medicine division at Loyola University Health System and professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago, said marijuana is an addictive substance and, compared with adult users, adolescents are as many as four times more likely to become dependent on the drug within two years after first using it.
As more adults legally are allowed to smoke dope, and as more states refrain from imposing many of their marijuana laws, teenagers particularly perceive marijuana as a safe substance. But, as Sigman noted in a news release, “[I]ts effects on the adolescent brain can be dangerous, especially if there is heavy use. As the stigma of marijuana use decreases, the number of teens using the drug has increased. More U.S. high school students now smoke marijuana than they do cigarettes.”
Loyola Medicine referred to a recent study showing that more than 1 in 3 high school seniors and 7 in 100 eighth-graders reported using marijuana in the last month. A report in the October issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology indicates that using marijuana in adolescence might damage the immune system in the long term.
Some teens use marijuana only occasionally, mostly the result of peer pressure in a social setting, but others self-medicate to cope with stress and emotional issues.
“Marijuana is the most common substance addiction being treated in adolescents in rehabilitation centers across the country,” Sigman said. But because it’s perceived as a “softer” kind of drug, because it moderates anxiety and depression, many people don’t realize that its addictive quality can come with the cost of dependence, and the problems associated with withdrawal.
According to Loyola Medicine, heavy use of marijuana by adolescents can lead to:
- impaired thinking;
- poor educational outcomes and perhaps a lower IQ;
- increased likelihood of dropping out of school;
- symptoms of chronic bronchitis; and
- increased risk of psychotic disorders for people who are predisposed.
Parents, Sigman advised, need to know that today’s “joint” is as many as four times as potent as the stuff they might have smoked in their youth. “Parents should inform themselves about the scientific facts relating to marijuana and the developing brain and be able to discuss the topic calmly and rationally,” Sigman advised. “Also, if the parents occasionally used marijuana during their lives, they should now know that there’s a risk if used before adulthood.”
To learn more about the addictive qualities of marijuana, how to recognize if your child is smoking it and what to do about it, consult the website of Choose Help, a resource for information about addiction and access to treatment.