Attitudes toward marijuana have been changing for some time. More than half of the states in the U.S. have legalized pot for medical use. Two states have legalized it for recreational use. Two more states and the District of Columbus will vote on the issue this year.
The legalizations are the result of citizens voting, which means that the majority of people are taking a more lax view of marijuana and its risks. With all these changes going on, it is important for teens and their parents to understand that this drug is harmful to young people.
Why Marijuana Is So Bad For Teen Users
Marijuana Changes The Teen Brain
Teenagers are not full-formed adults, a fact many of us tend to forget. Teens today seem so mature, but their brains are not finished developing. For this reason, any type of substance abuse poses a great risk. Mind-altering substances can affect how the teen brain grows and develops, and research is pretty clear about how marijuana does that.
The main psychoactive compound in marijuana is called THC and it is the most studied. In the brain, THC activates receptors that are responsible for things like mood, pleasure, thinking, concentration, memory and perception. The release of dopamine, the pleasure chemical, is responsible for the high that marijuana gives users and why most people seek it out. Unfortunately, along with that pleasurable feeling comes many other responses.
These responses lead to significantly negative changes in the teen brain. Smoking pot regularly, which means at least once a week, has been shown to cause physical and chemical changes in the part of the brain that is responsible for intelligence. Teens smoking pot often actually demonstrate a drop in IQ of up to eight points. These changes to the brain also impact how well a teen can concentrate on a task, pay attention to something or remember facts.
Marijuana Impairs Judgment And Coordination
While the long-term changes in the brain are scary, more immediate are the accidents and bad choices that smoking pot causes. Teens who smoke pot lose coordination and balance. This leads to car accidents and other types of accidents. It also impairs judgment, and teens who normally make good choices are more likely to do something stupid. Bad choices about sex, studying, driving, drinking, or using other drugs can have serious and life-long consequences.
Teens Are More Likely To Get Addicted
Most people mistakenly believe that marijuana is not addictive. It isn’t as habit-forming as some other substances, like heroin, nicotine or cocaine, but pot is addictive. And teens are more susceptible to becoming addicted than adults are. Among people who become addicted to pot to the extent that they need to seek treatment for it, the majority began smoking in high school or even middle school. Few people who began smoking in adulthood become addicted.
Marijuana Is A Gateway Drug
Some people deny that using marijuana makes a person more likely to use other drugs, but the truth is that smoking pot puts a teen at risk for other hazardous behaviors. Teens using other illegal drugs often started with marijuana. Research has suggested that this may be a result of the brain changes caused by pot. Being exposed to marijuana early can make other, more serious drugs like heroin more pleasurable.
Marijuana use is a risky choice for teens. Adults are less susceptible to the risks and dangers, but teens have developing brains that are highly influenced by mind-altering substances like THC. Marijuana in use today is higher in THC than in the past, which means it presents an even bigger risk to young people than ever before. Both teens and their parents need to understand the risks.
By Mary Ellen Ellis