Marijuana: Let's Be Honest! -- As parents in Greenfield, we have a huge number of issues which concern the well-being and development of our children. Bullying, social media, alcohol, tobacco and other substances, pressures to excel in the class and out; these are a just a few and finding a way to stay balanced and raise our children while protecting them from elements that may slow or harm their development can be a challenge. Children have the unique opportunity to view the real world through the magical lens of youthful innocence. Every facet of the miracle of existence can be a source of wonder to our children. It is this sense of wonder and magic which make our children “sparkle”. Can we as parents foster this “sparkle”? Eventually this develops into creativity, enthusiasm and a drive to explore our world and succeed at our endeavors. Use of illicit substances is one factor that threatens this “sparkle”.
We’ve chosen to focus on marijuana use for this newsletter. Marijuana has been in the news quite a bit recently and “dispensaries” are popping up which allow people easy access to the substance. Because of this and anecdotal stories about its supposed efficacy, many people consider marijuana to be a harmless “medicine” whose time for full legalization has come.
In this newsletter, I would like to challenge this viewpoint. Here you will find statistics for marijuana use amongst Greenfield’s youth, info on the effects of marijuana on the brains of younger individuals, info on dispensaries and the laws still in place regarding marijuana.
No matter the age of our children, we are constantly concerned about their well-being and future development. Even if your child is not at the stage where discussion of substance abuse seems relevant, it is useful to know, as a parent or guardian what type of environment your child is going to encounter as he or she matures.
STATISTICS IN GREENFIELD:
In 2013- 28.6 % of 8th graders reported having used marijuana at some point, 20% tried it BEFORE the age of 13.
16.2% of 8th graders reported having used marijuana in the past 30 days.
By the time they have reached their senior year, 53.3 % of students have tried marijuana and 28.3% have used within the last 30 days.
Most concerning is the early age at which children try marijuana and the misconception that it is a harmless “medicine”.
Children don’t view alcohol or marijuana with the same degree of skepticism that they once did and society in general has tended to believe the narrative that marijuana is a harmless, natural herb. Its now viewed as a “medicine” despite NOT being approved by the FDA, the governing body which defines what is technically medically effective from what is not.
The developing brain is particularly susceptible to damaging effects of exposure to marijuana’s psycho-active compounds.
EFFECTS OF MARIJUANA ON THE DEVELOPING BRAIN:
Multiple studies have confirmed that the human brain can take decades to fully develop. The pre-frontal cortex which controls impulse response and decision making is the last part of the brain to mature, normally well into one’s early 20′s. This leads to risk taking behavior and reckless decision making. When a mood/mind altering substance is introduced the effects can be damaging. With the age of first experimentation with marijuana dropping each year, there are bound to be problems with brain development in those using the substance. Academic performance may suffer, mental health may become compromised and other substances may be sought to “self-medicate”. The Gateway Drug “myth” is very much a reality.
Usage of marijuana leads to a relaxed euphoric state and a heightened sensory state. When this wears off the user may feel sleepy or a bit depressed. Anxiety and panic may also be felt. Regular use impairs the brain’s ability to form new memories and can impair physical co-ordination. Some of these symptoms have been show to be irreversible. One recent study found that children who began smoking in their teens lost an average of 8 points in IQ between the age of 13 and 38. What this means is a child with average to slightly above average intelligence will drop into the lowest third percentile. This equation does not equal success. Large doses may lead to hallucination and /or psychosis. Effects on the lungs and heart are also common.
Also of concern is that marijuana is increasingly being laced with stronger substances such as heroin or cocaine which make addiction or overdose real possibilities.
“MEDICAL” MARIJUANA/MARIJUANA DISPENSARIES:
In 2014, Massachusetts has begun to allow the Department of Health to open up to 35 non-profit registered marijuana dispensaries. Some have already opened and others are being hotly contested. Furthermore, these dispensaries are required to offer in-home delivery;delivery pot. The contested issues concern where the dispensaries are located (how close to schools), how the marijuana is regulated and in some cases, the form the marijuana actually takes. Contrary to my own assumption, it is not as simple as receiving a pill or even a joint. The marijuana is sometimes distributed in candy form or as a brownie or other baked good. A child with epilepsy may be given a marijuana lollipop.
Despite the fact that marijuana is now available for some at pre-determined dispensaries, it is NOT a medicine and has NOT been approved by the FDA, the governing body of medical classification. “patients” are not prescribed to take marijuana but rather recommended.
CONSEQUENCES OF HABITUAL MARIJUANA USE: Marijuana use and addiction can’t be taken lightly. Approximately 1.1 million drug-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities occurred in 2009 (the latest year for which data are available). Of those, 31 percent reported marijuana as their primary drug of choice. With a shrunken hippo-campus and pre-frontal cortex, chronic users face serious issues with apathy, depression and a tendency to use other substances.
Employment and promotional opportunities are harder to come by and interpersonal relations may suffer. For some, marijuana IS an addictive substance. Those who use tend to abuse and those who abuse are prone to chronic addiction. For anyone suffering from addiction, they can tell you just how difficult it is to deal with.
The image of the stereotypical “pothead” is based in the reality of the dull existence of chronic marijuana users. The “sparkle” of youth has long since fizzled out for most. These brain changes are in many cases irreversible.