The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recently released the results of a survey that measures drug use among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students. The survey’s findings show that illicit drug use, with the exception of marijuana, is down in all three grades.
Although eighth-graders reported a significant drop in marijuana use, students in the other grades maintained stable use of the drug in the last year. Only high school seniors in states with medical marijuana laws increased their use.
“While this news is both surprising and reassuring, we have to continue to talk to our kids about drug use,” says Dr. Ellen Rodarte, a board-certified family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “We have to remind them over and over again of the risks of using drugs in order for them to digest the message.”
Dr. Rodarte reports that many of her teen patients will ask whether pot really is bad for them. With the recent increase in the number of states with medical — and now recreational — marijuana laws, teens may be led to believe that it is not a dangerous drug.
However, according to the NIDA, long-term, regular use of marijuana that begins during the teen years can impair brain development and lower IQ. From birth until the early 20s, the brain is still “under construction” and exceptionally sensitive to damage from drug use.
“Teens are not little adults,” says Dr. Rodarte. “They are totally different animals and their developing brains take in information faster, work faster and are also more temperamental. Marijuana is not OK for the teen brain. In fact, regular, daily use can decrease a teen’s IQ by as much as 15 points.”
There are hundreds of chemicals in marijuana, but the one known as THC is responsible for the drug’s “high” or psychotropic effects. The NIDA reports that THC has a number of negative effects on the teen brain and can impair the following:
- Sensory and time perception
- Stress response
- Emotional control
Parents may be even more surprised to find that heavy or regular use of marijuana is linked to an increased risk for developing psychosis. It can also lead to depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Lifetime risks for regular marijuana users include lung damage, unemployment, other illegal drug use and a reduced quality of life.
Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, you can become addicted to marijuana. A user may continue to use in attempts to reach improved highs. In fact, the NIDA reports that roughly 30 percent of regular marijuana users develop a problem and are unable to stop using pot even though it might negatively affect their daily lives.
“What I don’t think parents understand is that today’s marijuana is not the drug we may remember from our teen years. It is much, much stronger,” says Dr. Rodarte. “Our job as parents is to be annoying, blinking ‘danger’ signs until our kids’ brains start to process the risks associated with marijuana use.”
Dr. Rodarte also warns parents and teens about the dangers of edible products, such as brownies, lollipops and gummy bears. These often have high concentrations of THC and metabolize slower so that the high is delayed, which can lead a user to feel the need to increase dosage, thereby increasing the risk of overindulgence. Edibles also carry an additional risk in that they are not in childproof containers and can look like candy, so children may mistake them for treats and overdose if these products are kept in the home.
“Be loving nags to your children,” says Dr. Rodarte. “Let’s remember that we’re their parents — not their friends — and they’re supposed to tolerate us, not necessarily like us. We have to teach them — and show them — that there are other really great ways to feel good.”
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Rodarte about the dangers of marijuana for teens for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.