Society must be blunt about weed effects

By Campus Editor

As you read this, many teens and young adults are tumbling down from their 4/20 highs. However, most adolescents are blissfully unaware of the impact of puffing pot. 

Contrary to the stereotype that only stoners skip class to puff and pass, it is common for high school officials to find athletic and high-achieving students smoking, according to an April 11 article in the Contra Costa Times. As more teens and young adults develop a relaxed attitude toward marijuana and the pervasive culture, the government needs to sufficiently educate youth on the adverse effects of marijuana. 

The government has run anti-drug advertisements and even has a website dedicated to informing teens about drug use, but these efforts have proven ineffective. A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found the Above the Influence campaign’s anti-drug advertisements were effective in dissuading young girls from using marijuana but were less so with young boys. 

Despite national television advertisements advocating drug abstinence, teens and young adults take lighting up a joint lightly. The April 11 Contra Costa Times details how some student athletes at College Park High School in Pleasant Hill, Calif., showed up to practice high. 

Adolescents have reported using pot to cope with physical and psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties and physical pain when other medications have failed, according to a study published in an April 2009 BioMed Central journal. Marijuana is being used in lieu of traditional stress management techniques, including progressive relaxation, exercise and meditation.

As a result of marijuana use becoming more casual among students and more prevalent in pop culture, more young adults are smoking now than a few years ago. A National Institute on Drug Abuse survey found approximately 23 percent of high school seniors reported that they had smoked weed in December 2013, roughly  a 17 percent jump from 2008. 

Part of the nonchalant attitude toward the herb lies in the lack of awareness of its harmful neurological effects. Contrary to the widespread belief that the brain finishes developing when the teenage years end, it actually does not stop until adults reach their mid-20s, according to a July 2013 study published in the journal of Frontiers in Psychiatry. 

During adolescence, the brain is still developing its prefrontal cortex, cerebellum and parietal cortex, areas of the brain associated with problem solving, planning, working memory and regulating emotion, according to the study. This is the time in kids’ lives when they engage in risky—and sometimes reckless—behavior. The higher levels of THC present in today’s weed can result in more brain changes and a higher risk of addiction, according to researchers at the University of Milwaukee. Their research found that early marijuana use has more severe cognitive consequences. The study found that taking up smoking before age 18 leads to shorter attention spans, reduced overall verbal IQ and poorer executive functioning such as reasoning and inhibition. 

The researchers also found smoking weed correlated with teens having other disadvantages such as poor memory, slow information processing speed and an inclination to engage in risky sexual behaviors. 

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience’s April 16 issue suggested that recreational marijuana use caused significant brain abnormalities. 

Not all weed smokers are prone to using hard drugs, but for many, marijuana was a stepping-stone on the path to trying more intense drugs, according to a June 2013 study published in the Humboldt Journal of Social Relations. Interviews with 51 current and former marijuana users revealed that only 10 users thought using marijuana could lead to trying other drugs, even though their own experiences contradicted the theory. Approximately 78 percent of participants reported using cocaine or methamphetamines in the past.

It is a person’s choice to smoke weed. Despite its legality for recreational or medicinal use in some states and its health benefits, marijuana is still harmful to the human brain. The government—as well as parents and educators—needs to educate young people in a way they can understand and relate to. To get the message across, they need to make sure youth do not perceive the message as being lame or corny and provide support for those who choose to abstain from drug use. If youth are not properly educated about marijuana’s adverse effects, the trend will continue, leaving intelligent, talented students with fewer IQ points than if they had just said no.