Teen Use of Marijuana Increasing

How many teens today do you think are smoking, drinking or using drugs?  Maybe a fourth?  A third?  Well, try a half. According to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), one out of every two teens is engaged in some type of drug use. The most common drug of choice among high school students in the U.S. is alcohol, followed by cigarettes and marijuana, followed by controlled prescription drugs.

Today’s blog is going to focus on marijuana, though you can get information about teen use of alcohol, nicotine and prescription drugs from our previous blogs. According to the CASA study, 36.8% of high school students have used marijuana. More shocking, nearly 21% of parents declared marijuana harmless.

The Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy believes the increase in marijuana use can be attributed to the growing number of states that have approved marijuana for medical use. Perhaps that is why parents might believe marijuana is harmless, reasoning that if it can be used as a medicine, it must be safe. We hope to give you the true facts about this drug.

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana is a mind-altering, illegal drug made from the leaves, stems and other parts of the hemp plant. The drug has more than 200 different names, including pot, bud, dope, skunkweed, weed, grass, herb and Mary Jane. Stronger forms of marijuana include hashish (hash) and sinsemilla. Most marijuana users smoke the drug in a pipe, a water pipe (bong) or a cigarette (joint). Some people put marijuana inside cigars (blunts) or into food as well.

Marijuana changes how the brain functions, causing the user to feel a “high.” Researchers believe that the levels of the chemical in marijuana, THC, have been increasing since the 1970’s, which means that today’s drug is likely stronger than in the past.

But Is Marijuana Truly Dangerous?

When you use a mind-altering substance such as marijuana, you are much more likely to make bad decisions. These bad decisions can involve driving a car while under the influence of the drug, making sexual choices that are unsafe or out of character for you, or saying things that you regret to other people. Marijuana can also affect your judgment about other drugs. You may drink too much or try drugs you never had any intention of using while you’re under the influence of marijuana.

Beyond the drug’s ability to cloud your judgment, there are indeed short- and long-term effects of using marijuana detailed below.

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Using Marijuana?

Marijuana affects different people in different ways, but the following short-term effects are common:

  • problems with thinking, concentrating, learning things, and solving problems
  • memory impairment
  • delayed reactions
  • altered perception of light, sound and touch
  • clumsiness and lack of coordination
  • increased appetite
  • increased heart rate
  • paranoid thoughts or intense anxiety

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Using Marijuana?

Long-term use of marijuana can cause respiratory issues and other problems similar to those caused by tobacco use, such as breathing difficulties, decreased immune system functioning, and possibly even lung cancer. Similar to smoking, long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction and an increase in tolerance so that larger amounts of marijuana must be used to achieve the same “high.”

Some studies show that when people have smoked large amounts of marijuana for years, the drug affects mental functions. For example, research released in 2010 by Dr. Staci Ann Gruber indicates that people who start using marijuana at a young age have greater cognitive shortfalls. Researchers also found that the more marijuana a person used corresponded to greater difficulties in focus and attention. Another study links marijuana use with poor grades. A teen with a “D” average is four times more likely to have used marijuana than a teen with an “A” average. Additionally, students who drink or use drugs frequently are up to five times more likely than their peers to drop out of high school.

Since teens’ brains are only about 80 percent developed, it seems logical that using a drug that alters the brain would be especially detrimental to a teen’s development and overall health. Perhaps even more compelling is the fact that several studies have shown that if you use an addictive substance before age 18 you are six times more likely to develop a substance use disorder than if you didn’t start using until you were 21 or older.

How Can I Tell if My Child is Using Marijuana?

Kids can be adept at hiding evidence of drug use or experimentation, and parents can tend to look at their children through rose-colored glasses.

In fact, a recent poll found that only 10 percent of parents believe their own teens ages 13 to 17 have used alcohol in the past year and only 5 percent said they believed their teens have smoked marijuana. However, surveys that measures drug, alcohol, and cigarette use and related attitudes among adolescent students nationwide reported that 52 percent of 10th graders said they drank alcohol in the last year and 28 percent said they used marijuana. The moral of the story is to not shut a blind eye to possible behavior by your own children that might shock you.

Clues to look for are butane lighters, rolling papers or pipes, butts or leaves in trashcans or clothing pockets, or powders or pills in small plastic bags. While high on the drug, your child might exhibit bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, fatigue, lack of concentration or coordination, changes in appetite, slow reaction time, and the appearance of being intoxicated. Finally, if you see a drop in your child’s school grades, a decline in their responsibility, drastic mood swings, or a change in their friends, these can also be signs of drug use.

What Can Parents Do?

It is important that parents articulate their views, rules and values about drugs often. Studies show teens with parents who clearly state that they expect their child to be drug free are less likely to engage in drugs. You can get more information on how to talk to your children about drugs at http://www.theantidrug.com/.

If you see any of the signs for drug use listed above, it’s time to talk to your child. When discussing possible drug use with your child, it’s important to express care and concern for them, your expectations for your child to be drug-free, the health problems of drug use, and the consequences of any drug use. If you determine that you child is in fact using drugs, it is time to seek a medical professional. Your family doctor or a teen health clinic is a good place to start.

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