Use of marijuana has
adverse health, safety, social, academic, economic, and
behavioral consequences; and children are the most
vulnerable to its damaging effects. Marijuana is the most
widely used illicit drug in America and is readily
available to kids.
Compounding the problem is
that the marijuana of today is not the marijuana of the
baby boomers 30 years ago. Average THC levels rose from
less than 1 percent in the mid-1970s to more than 8
percent in 2004. And the potency of B.C. Bud, a popular
type of marijuana cultivated in British Columbia, Canada,
is roughly twice the national average-ranging from 15
percent THC content to 20 percent or even higher.
Marijuana use can lead to
dependence and abuse. Marijuana was the second most common
illicit drug responsible for drug treatment admissions in
2002-outdistancing crack cocaine, the next most prevalent
Shocking to many is that
more teens are in treatment each year for marijuana
dependence than for alcohol and all other illegal drugs
combined. This is the trend that
has been increasing for
more than a decade: in 2002, 64 percent of adolescent
treatment admissions reported marijuana as their primary
substance of abuse, compared to 23 percent in 1992.
Marijuana is a gateway
drug. In drug law enforcement, rarely do we meet heroin or
cocaine addicts who did not start their drug use with
marijuana. Scientific studies bear out our anecdotal
For example, the Journal
of the American Medical Association reported, based on
a study of 300 sets of twins, that marijuana-using twins
were four times more likely than their siblings to use
cocaine and crack cocaine, and five times more likely to
use hallucinogens such as LSD.
Furthermore, the younger a
person is when he or she first uses marijuana, the more
likely that person is to use cocaine and heroin and become
drug-dependent as an adult. One study found that 62
percent of the adults who first tried marijuana before
they were 15 were likely to go on to use cocaine. In
contrast, only one percent or less of adults who never
tried marijuana used heroin or cocaine.
Smoking marijuana can cause
significant health problems. Marijuana contains more than
400 chemicals, of which 60 are cannabinoids. Smoking a
marijuana cigarette deposits about three to five times
more tar into the lungs than one filtered tobacco
marijuana smokers suffer from many of the same health
problems as tobacco smokers, such as chronic coughing and
wheezing, chest colds, and chronic bronchitis. In fact,
studies show that smoking three to four joints per day
causes at least as much harm to the respiratory system as
smoking a full pack of cigarettes every day.
Marijuana smoke also
contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons
than tobacco smoke and produces high levels of an enzyme
that converts certain hydrocarbons into malignant cells.
Mental Health Problems
In addition, smoking
marijuana can lead to increased anxiety, panic attacks,
depression, social withdrawal, and other mental health
problems, particularly for teens. Research shows that kids
aged 12 to 17 who smoke marijuana weekly are three times
more likely than nonusers to have suicidal thoughts.
Marijuana use also can
cause cognitive impairment, to include such short-term
effects as distorted perception, memory loss, and trouble
with thinking and problem solving. Students with an
average grade of D or below were found to be more than
four times as likely to have used marijuana in the past
year as youths who reported an average grade of A.
For young people, whose
brains are still developing, these effects are
particularly problematic and jeopardize their ability to
achieve their full potential.