Does Legalizing Marijuana Send the Wrong Message?

Teen Smoking Is Still Very Much a Concern

Health officials are concerned that the trend toward legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use sends the wrong message to those who are most vulnerable to its effects: children whose bodies and minds are still developing.

Even in states where recreational use of marijuana has been legalized by voter referendum, its use is legal only for adults over age 21. Nowhere is smoking weed legal for children or considered safe for use by youth, but that's not always the message they are getting.

Decreased Perception of Harm

Initially, the message teens were receiving was, "If it's medicine, it must be okay." More recently, the message is, "If it's legal, it must be safe."

The National Institute for Drug Abuse's annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey show that teens' perception of marijuana's harmfulness has gradually decreased over the years, which usually signals future increases in use among youth.

According to one such MTF survey, only 41.7 percent of eighth graders see occasional use of marijuana as harmful. As they grow older, that percentage decreases: only 20.6 percent of 12th graders see occasional use of weed as harmful.

The Wrong Message?

As more and more states make both medical and recreational marijuana use legal, teen perception of the harm it can cause is diminished.

"We are certainly not sending a very good message when we call it medicine and legalize it," said R. Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

There are some very good reasons, documented by scientific research, that smoking marijuana is dangerous for underage users. Here are some of the dangers that have been explored by various studies:


Teen Brains Damaged by Heavy Marijuana Use

Drugs and booze at a house party

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia were able to use magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs) to document the visible brain damage suffered by heavy marijuana users who were in a drug treatment center. The areas of the brain affected by heavy use included those involved in memory, attention, decision-making, language, and executive functioning skills.


Early Pot Use Linked to Cognitive Impairment

Scientists from the Harvard Medical School found evidence that smokers who began using marijuana before age 17 had cognitive deficits not detected in those who began smoking later in life, and who used the drug sparingly. Those who started smoking early performed "significantly worse" on tests involving verbal IQ and memory of lists.


Heavy Weed Use Affects Learning, Social Skills

A review of 11 separate research studies by the National Institute for Drug Abuse found that heavy marijuana smoking not only affected the users' learning abilities, but also their social skills, causing very real problems in their daily lives. The studies showed that smoking pot has an impact on the user's ability to learn, and to remember what they learned.


Smoking Pot Doubles Risk of Testicular Cancer

Testicular cancer is a rare form of cancer, but young males who smoked marijuana are twice as likely to develop a certain type of testicular cancer, including a type that is difficult to treat. The study at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine is one of several that has linked marijuana use to an increased risk for testicular cancer.


Teen Binge Marijuana Use Linked to Stroke

Although the risk of stroke in adolescents and young men is very rare, a study at St. Louis University found that binge use of marijuana has been linked to the occurrence of a particular type of stroke.


Teens More Vulnerable to Addictions

During adolescence, the brain circuitry that encourages novel experiences, like experimenting with drugs, develops at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, this coincides with the relative under-development of other parts of the brain that are involved in impulse control—a combination that can lead to problematic experimentation with addictive drugs, according to researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine.

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Article Sources

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