Changing Teens’ Perceptions Of Marijuana Use
by Emily M
The most recent Monitoring the Future survey, which measures drug use and attitudes among high school adolescents and teens across the country, reported some promising trends. The use of illegal drugs — other than marijuana — is lower than it has been in more than 20 years — among teens in 8th, 10th and 12th grades. Substances like ecstasy, amphetamines, heroin, cigarettes, alcohol and opioids are at historically low levels of use among adolescents and teens. While this is good news, overall teen marijuana use is steadily increasing.
This year’s Monitoring the Future survey revealed that marijuana use increased significantly among adolescents in 2017. This is the first substantial increase in seven years. The past-year use of marijuana increased by 1.3 percent in 2017 for students in 8th, 10th and 12th grades. Also, more teenagers are using marijuana on a daily basis than they do cigarettes. Regular marijuana use exceeded cigarette use among students in 8th, 10th and 12th grades. One out of every 16 high school seniors uses marijuana daily.
Among all ages, the perception of danger from marijuana use has declined. Only 29 percent of 12th graders believe that regular marijuana use is a risk. This number is half of what it was about 20 years ago. Also, high school seniors from states where medical marijuana is legal were more likely to have consumed marijuana in the form of edibles or vaping.
Naturally, adolescents and teens who don’t view marijuana use as a problem are more likely to use it. This perception that marijuana use is not dangerous has been driven by our culture’s attitudes about the drug.
Since 1996, 29 states have some form of legalization for medical marijuana use. As more and more states legalize marijuana, the perception of it as being a dangerous drug has decreased among both kids and adults. Most parents do not place marijuana use as a serious concern regarding their children. The Yahoo News Marist Poll found that only one-fifth of parents were worried about marijuana use when it comes to their children. They were more worried about cigarette use among their adolescents and teens. Alcohol use and having sex were viewed nearly as much of a problem as marijuana use according to the survey findings from the Yahoo News Marist Poll.
Despite our culture’s increasingly laissez-faire attitude about marijuana use, there is substantial evidence that suggests marijuana use among adolescents and teenagers is harmful. Until the mid-twenties or so, the brain is still developing. During this time, it is particularly sensitive to damage from drug exposure.
Some studies have found changes in the brain in adolescents and young adults who use marijuana. Some studies have found that regular marijuana use in adolescence or young adulthood is associated with a variety of adverse outcomes, such as reduced academic performance, increased high school dropout rates, lower life satisfaction, greater rates of unemployment and increased reliance on public benefits.
A long-term study from New Zealand found that frequent use of marijuana is linked with a decline in IQ. The study followed 1,000 people born in 1972. They were asked questions about marijuana use and underwent neuropsychological testing at various ages. After controlling for educational differences, the study found that persistent marijuana users experienced a drop in neuropsychological functioning that is equal to about six IQ points. This number is a significant drop. It is approximately the range of neurocognitive damage found in people who have been exposed to lead.
Another study found that heavy marijuana users had damage to the area of the brain that has to do with impulsivity. This was seen particularly in people who started using marijuana before the age of 16. This research suggests that there is a higher risk in starting marijuana use at a younger age.
There is also concern that marijuana has become more potent over the years. The average percentage of THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in pot, has increased over the years. The average THC content of marijuana samples confiscated in the 1990s was approximately 3.7 percent. In 2013, that number rose to 9.6 percent. In Colorado, where marijuana is legal for recreational purposes, a state-licensed testing facility found THC content as high as 28 percent. These potent strains of marijuana can hit inexperienced users — especially teenagers— hard. In Colorado, the number of emergency room visits for marijuana-related incidents increased 29 percent after commercialization in 2015. Although not all of these emergency room visits are likely due to potent marijuana strains, health experts in Colorado tell CNN Health that it is expected that the increased potency is partially related to the increase.
So, what is the solution? Many experts recommend more research into the dangers of marijuana, as well as evidence-based prevention programs aimed at helping adolescents change their perception of marijuana use. If teens’ perceptions of marijuana use change, it should help reduce their use.
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