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Myth: Marijuana Is Harmless

Reality: Marijuana Is Dangerous to the User

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Updated September 21, 2013

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 cause.

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 a 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.

Gateway Drug

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 findings.

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.

Significant Health Problems

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 cigarette.

Consequently, regular 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.

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