Marijuana has been a trending topic in American culture for decades, most recently due to law changes in some states. There are currently 20 states where the drug is legal for medical purposes and 17 where recreational use is decriminalized (i.e., not considered a criminal act, though technically still illegal and subject to fines). In November 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states in the union to fully legalize the sale and possession of cannabis for both medical and non-medical use. Still, the drug remains a Schedule I substance under federal law, making it illegal at the federal level and sparking lots of debate.
Marijuana Is Not Harmful, Teens Say
While the discussion of marijuana’s legality in the U.S. evolves, it seems that public perception toward the drug is changing as well. Specifically, it is changing in the minds of America’s most impressionable citizens: teenagers.
NIH Study sheds light on addiction issues
The National Institutes of Health released findings from a survey about alcohol, tobacco and drug use among teenagers. The survey sampled students in grades 8-12, acquiring information about their personal views and experiences with substances.
Many of the survey statistics pointed to positive upswings regarding substance abuse among teens. Cocaine, heroin, alcohol and cigarette smoking, for example, have all seen steady declines in teenage use in the last 20 years. Marijuana, however, is seeing the needle move in a different direction. Up from 2.4% in 1993, 6.5% of seniors in the 2013 study reported daily marijuana use.
Perhaps even more indicative of a shift in attitude however, is the growing percentage of older students who view marijuana as a harmless substance. Some 60% of surveyed seniors (up from 56% in 2012) say they believe marijuana is not harmful.
PBS interviews leading addiction author
In an interview with PBS, David Sheff, author of Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, says the trouble is that the information we’ve been given for the last half-century hasn’t been completely accurate. He explains that much of the propaganda surrounding marijuana has been ambiguous at best, and misleading at worst.
Says Sheff: “There was an effort to paint broadstroke that all drugs are bad, that you’ll steal from your family, end up in jail and die. But that message was discredited by what kids saw. Kids saw kids smoking pot and doing ok.”
The problem with this social acceptance, according to Dr. Wilson Compton, the deputy director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is that marijuana use is not simply a black-and-white issue of harmful vs. harmless.
“It could be possible that marijuana could be helpful, but also harmful in other dosages and situations,” says Compton. “We see that with many medications, we see it with stimulants; in the right hands all medication can be helpful and important, but it can also cause harm in other situations.” He explains that young people using the drug is really at the heart of the issue. “They’re in a crucial development stage,” he says. “The impact of the substance may be particularly significant for the adolescent brain.” Memory loss, poor test scores, and even abnormal brain shapes have been associated with heavy marijuana use among teenagers.
Risk of addiction continues
Beyond the health risks for young people, marijuana use also carries a risk of addiction. One recent report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information established that marijuana users not only have a propensity for substance dependence (10% – 20% of daily users become dependent), but that weed addiction is often accompanied by mood and anxiety disorders, creating challenges for diagnosis and treatment.
So it seems that despite a softening in public perception, marijuana use still presents many risks, particularly to young people.
If you or your loved one don’t believe marijuana is not harmful and need help, please contact The Watershed anytime at 1-800-861-1768.