Young people and marijuana use: The startling effects

For many years now my colleagues in the Mental Health and Substance Abuse arena have been sounding the alarm concerning the use of Cannabis (marijuana) among our youth.

Continuous studies conducted over the last decades by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and various independent organizations and researchers have long made public the rise in marijuana use by youth.

Recent studies, however, bear out what my colleagues have been predicting for a long time: marijuana has, for the first time in history, surpassed all other substances in its use, and is now the number one choice of drugs among our youth, to include alcohol.

And the number one reason for this? Legalization of marijuana in four states and the District of Columbia and the changing attitudes toward the use of marijuana. Yet, by admission, these states’ legalization experiments have not succeeded and are suffering the consequences of their action.

Recent studies of marijuana on the states of Colorado and Washington conducted by Dr. Kevin Sabat and Jeffrey Zinsmeister, both renown experts in the national and international field of drug policies, utilizing data from the states themselves, have given us a detailed report on the failure of the policies enacted in those states.

“These ‘experiments’ in legalization and commercialization, have not succeeded, and the toll to the citizens of those states has been as serious as many of us have feared,” states Dr. Sabat.

And he goes on to state, “The most obvious indicator of this impact is a surge in regular marijuana use by minors. Unsurprisingly, Colorado now leads the country in past-month marijuana use among 12-to 17-year-olds, with Washington in 6th place.”

Although the use of marijuana by youth throughout the United States has continued to rise in numbers, nowhere do these numbers come close to the percentage of increase in the states where legalization has occurred; and holds true for each age group of children and adults.

As example, in the past year marijuana use by state for ages 12 to 18, the U.S. percentage was around 12 percent. But for Washington state it was at 19 percent and Colorado was at 20 percent.

The rapid rise in marijuana use holds true also with the adult population. Marijuana legalization has affected a rise in the number of youth and adults who use the various products, whether it be my smoking, by edibles, etc.

What are some of the other costs reported by the states where legalization has been enacted? Most notable, and I might add most seriously, has been the numbers of hospitalizations related to marijuana. In Colorado, by their own statistics, the numbers of hospitalizations grew from 6,000 in 2010 to 12,000 in 2014 (their latest statistics, although I can assure you that the 2015 and 2016 statistics will certainly outgrow those numbers).

Sadly, these numbers also correlate with a tremendous surge in marijuana poisonings. Marijuana poisonings jumped 148 percent and 52 percent between 2012 and 2014 in Colorado and Washington State, respectively. Even more concerning is the rise in poisonings among children between zero and 5 years old, increasing 153 percent in Colorado alone between 2012 and 2014.

As Dr. Sabat and his colleagues say, and the States of legalization point out, the effects don’t end at the hospital door, either. Similarly — and predictably — marijuana intoxication plays an ever-greater role in DUI cases and traffic fatalities in the two states. As of June 2015, a full third of DUI cases in Washington State tested positive for THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol delta 9, the psychoactive chemical in Marijuana). And in Colorado, a driver in almost one in every five traffic fatalities tested positive for THC as of 2014.

When voters approved the legalization of marijuana in their states, they were led to believe that it would curb the black market sales of the drug and associated crimes. Evidence produced by all of those four states has contradicted this, that the legalization has not affected the black market sales nor crime, but actually has increased dramatically since the legalization ( in looking at the percentage of homicides in Denver alone, it has risen a staggering 81 percent since legalizing marijuana).

What is most important for us, in our Valley communities, to know is the “spillover” of attitudes projected by the legalization of marijuana in other states. Our youth are most at risk. It is most important that our youth learn the rule of law when it comes to Cannabis. It is illegal to possess, use, or distribute marijuana in this state, and is clearly against federal law (the exception in our state being physician prescribed cannabis which contains cannabinoids, with the THC extracted, prescribed for the treatment of epilepsy).

The idea that marijuana is a harmless drug has always been a myth, and the statistics prove this out. All of the longitudinal (long term) studies of marijuana effects on the brain alone are most startling. There have been thousands of studies conducted on marijuana’s psychoactive chemicals over the years…on memory, dissociative behaviors, etc.

One of the most recent of these was conducted by Dr. Francesca Filbey, an associate professor of behavioral and brain science at the University of Texas at Dallas, having to do with the Brain’s Reward System. It stated, “This study shows that marijuana disrupts the natural reward circuitry of the brain, making marijuana highly salient to those who use it heavily. In essence, these brain alterations could be a marker of transition from recreational marijuana use to problematic use.”

Chronic, long-term use of marijuana changes the brain circuitry leading to addiction to the drug. This is but one characteristic of importance concerning the mental health of our youth who use marijuana, and yet another reason not to begin use. Marijuana is not a benign drug my Friends.

The answer to our national and community drug problems rests with each one of us. Are you a part of the solution? Until next time, stay healthy my friends!