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LA Times Talks to Addiction Experts About Teens and Marijuana

There’s a lot of misconception about marijuana. Perhaps that’s why the LA Times did an article on it early this month to help set the record straight. Two drug counselors and experts in the field of addiction share their professional experience with marijuana by answering some direct questions.


For instance, marijuana is a popularly known as the gateway drug, meaning that once a teen begins using it, it’s likely going to lead to the use of other drugs. Yet, some bigger questions around the use of pot as a mind-altering drug include:


Does marijuana affect my brain?

Yes, it does. When drugs are introduced into the brain, they affect the ability for neurons to communicate with one another. This is particularly dangerous for teens because the signaling and communication that is happening in the brain is on fire during adolescence. Neurons are wiring and new connections between the two hemispheres of the brain are forming.  This kind of growth and connection forming is in an explosive time during adolescence. If the brain can continue to be plastic, that is, if new neural connections can continue to form and if old ones can be released, this is can support healthy brain function and mental health. These neural connections and adaptability are important in a teen’s learning, behavior, and mood regulation.


Some drugs such as marijuana will mimic a neurotransmitter and in a way “fool” a receptor. The drug will lock onto the receptors and activate the nerve cells. However, because the drug is not the neurotransmitter that is intended for that receptor, the neurons end up sending abnormal messages throughout the brain. Of course, this leads to hallucination, abnormal thoughts, and change in perception. Regular use of marijuana (considered to be at least once per week) can lead to cognitive decline, poor attention, and decreased IQ levels.


Does everyone smoke marijuana?

Not all teens or adolescents use marijuana. In fact, the majority does not. Although for teens it might feel like everyone is smoking pot, it’s not true. A 2010 article in the Los Angeles Times pointed out that 9% of people who use the drug develop an addiction to it. This is compared to 15% of people who become addicted to cocaine and alcohol.


What should I do if my friends say I should smoke it?

Be clear about your own decision first. If you know that you don’t want to smoke from the onset, it will be easier to say no. Also, if you know that you don’t want to smoke, say it clearly without feeling bad about your decision. Most peers will respect your ability to be who you are and know what you want.


Another tactic to consider, especially if others easily influence you, is to lie. If you know that you don’t want to smoke, tell your friends that your parents drug test you. Or tell them that your job randomly tests you or that you’re parents will know because they were big potheads when they were younger.  Once you’re clear that you don’t want to smoke, find a way to get that clarity across.


And if you’re still unclear and don’t yet have a firm no in your mind, consider the cons: damage to the brain, gateway to more dangerous drugs, a possible influence on your grades and negative influence on your life in general.


What about the edible marijuana, is that okay to try?

Edible forms of marijuana make 40% of marijuana sales in the state and are typically the form for first-time users of the drug use. They have the same impact on the brain as smoking marijuana, although there are some additional dangers. The problem with edible forms of pot is that its effect comes on slowly. Whereas when a user smokes the drug, effects are felt pretty quickly. With a longer wait time to experience the drug, users might ingest more. The potency of the edible forms of pot is articulated in warning labels on the products, but they don’t seem to having an effect.


In fact, according to the Journal of American Medical Association, 14 children under the age of 12 ended up in the hospital after taking in the edible form of the drug between 2009 and 2011.


Because marijuana, like alcohol, is such a social drug, it’s easy to succumb to peer pressure. However, resisting this pressure and knowing what’s right for you can help you carry on with your life without the use of drugs.



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