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The Voice of the Black Community

Life and Religion

Teens underestimate the dangers of marijuana
Most teens see no harm in smoking a little weed, but the drug can be dangerous.
Published Thursday, January 17, 2013 9:30 am
by Michaela L. Duckett

A recent survey of eighth, 10th- and 12th-grade students in the United States shows the majority sees no harm in smoking a little weed. The report concerns experts who fear that lowered perceptions of marijuana’s harmfulness will signal future increases in use.


According to the 2012 Monitoring the Future survey, 58.3 percent of eighth graders did not see occasional use of marijuana as harmful. As teens get older, their perception of risk diminishes.


Only 20.6 percent of 12th graders see occasional use of marijuana as harmful (the lowest since 1983), and less than half (44.1 percent) see regular use as harmful, the lowest since 1979.


However, studies have shown marijuana use can be more harmful than many teens realize and can cause permanent damage.


“THC, a key ingredient in marijuana, alters the ability of the hippocampus, a brain area related to learning and memory, to communicate effectively with other brain regions,” said National Institute of Drug Abuse Director Nora D. Volkow M.D. “We know from recent research that marijuana use that begins during adolescence can lower IQ and impair other measures of mental function into adulthood.”


A 38-year study funded by National Institutes of Health showed that people who used cannabis heavily from their teens through adulthood showed a significant drop in IQ between the ages of 13 and 38.


Those who used marijuana heavily before age 18 showed impaired mental abilities even after they quit taking the drug. The findings are consistent with other studies showing a link between prolonged marijuana use and cognitive or neural impairment.


“We are increasingly concerned that the regular or daily use of marijuana is robbing many young people of their potential to achieve and excel in school or other aspects of life,” Volkow said.


Marijuana has been known to cause problems in a person’s daily life or make existing problems worse. In one study, marijuana abusers reported the drug impaired important measures of wellbeing like achievement (including physical and mental health) cognitive abilities, social life and career status.


“We should also point out that marijuana use that begins in adolescences increases the risk they will become addicted to the drug,” Volkow said. “The risk of addiction goes from 1 in 11 overall to about 1 in 6 for those who start using in their teens, and even higher in daily smokers.”


The Monitoring the Future survey is an annual survey of eight, 10th and 12th graders conduced by researchers at the University of Michigan. The survey is carried out in classrooms around the country each year under a grant from NIDA, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.


According to the 2012 survey, 6.5 percent of high school seniors report smoking marijuana daily, up from 5.1 percent five years ago. Nearly 23 percent said they smoked it in the month prior to the survey, and just over 36 percent say they smoked within the previous year.


Researchers found that marijuana use escalates after eighth grade, when only 1.1 percent reported daily use and 6.5 percent reported us in the past month. More than 11 percent of eighth grader said they used marijuana in the past year.


Other drug use shows modest decline


The Monitoring the Future survey found that the use of other illicit drugs among teens has continued a steady modest decline. Among the most promising trends, the past year use of Ecstasy among seniors was at 3.8 percent, down from 5.3 percent last year.


“Each new generation of young people deserves the chance to achieve its full potential, unencumbered by the obstacles place in the way by drug use,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy.


“These long-term declines in youth drug use in America are proof that positive social change is possible. But now more than ever we need parents and other adult influences to step up and have direct conversations with young people about the importance of making healthy decisions. Their futures depend on it.”


The survey also looks at abuse of drugs that are easily available to teens because they are generally legal for adults (tobacco and alcohol), other purposes (over the counter or prescribed medications; inhalants) or new drugs that have not yet been banned. Most of the top drugs or drug classes abused by high school seniors are legally accessible.


Cigarette smoking continues at its lowest levels among eighth, 10th and 12th graders with dramatic long-term improvement. Significant declines were seen in lifetime use among eight graders, to 15.5 percent from last year’s 18.4 percent, compared to nearly 50 percent at its peak in 1996.


Significant declines were also seen in 10th grade lifetime use of cigarettes, down to 27.7 percent from 30.4 percent in 2011. Peak rates for 10th graders were seen in 1996 at 61.2 percent. For some indicators, including past month use in all three grades, cigarette smoking remains lower than marijuana use, a phenomenon that began a few years ago.


This year, reported alcohol use was at its lowest. More than 29 percent of eighth graders said they had used alcohol in their lifetime, down from 33.1 percent last year, and significantly lower than the peak rate of 55.8 percent in 1994.


For 10th graders, 54 percent of teens reported lifetime use of alcohol, down from its peak of 72 percent in 1997. Binge drinking rates (five or more drinks in a row in the previous two weeks) have been slowly declining for eighth graders, at 5.1 percent, down from 6.4 percent in 2011, and 13.3 percent at their peak in 1996.


For the first time, the survey this year measured teen use of the much publicized emerging family of drugs known as “bath salts,” containing an amphetamine-like stimulant that is often sold and drug paraphernalia stores. The data showed a relatively low use among 12 graders at 1.3 percent.


Overall, 45,449 students from 395 public and private schools participated in the 2012 study. Since 1975, the survey has measured drug, alcohol and cigarette use and related attitudes in 12th graders nationwide. Eighth and 10th graders were added to the survey in 1991.



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