Myths About Marijuana

After watching 60 minutes and many other shows on the issues now taking placing in Colorado after the legalization of Marijuana I thought about the article that my Mother once wrote about the issue. So intelligent and wise-here is a guest post from my mom.  Thanks Lucy!

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Drug use in America continues to increase among pre-teens, teens and young adults.  Despite major efforts from law enforcement and drug task forces, substances of misuse are available to anyone seeking them and too many others caught in casual situations who are encouraged to experiment.  Marijuana remains the most commonly used illicit drug in the country.  More than 1.2 million Americans ages 12 and over participated in substance use treatment for marijuana in 2006, making it the second most prevalent substance of concern behind alcohol.  The percentage of Americans seeking treatment for marijuana use more than doubled from 1993-2005.

Young people who use marijuana or alcohol tend to be more prone to denial, justification and rationalization than users of ‘harder” drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines.    There are many individuals who have smoked without experiencing significant consequences, because many of marijuana’s effects develop gradually and are therefore difficult to recognize, and because societal attitudes toward marijuana are ambivalent.

Some individuals adhere to beliefs about marijuana use that make it more difficult for them to recognize the harmful impact of use on their lives.  Below are discussed four myths concerning marijuana and it’s use that will assist parents to generate in their children critical thinking concerning about the choice to use in discussions with their children.

Myth#1:  Marijuana is all natural; therefore it is safe and healthy to smoke it. (“God put it on the earth for a reason.’  “It grows in nature, so it’s fine.”)  Today’s marijuana is not the same substance as the plant that grew indigenously in nature.  The main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).  The average THC content in seized street marijuana more than doubled in 14 years, increasing from under 4% in 1983 to 9.6% in 2007.  This increase is attributed to decades of cross breeding and cultivation techniques used by people intending to synthesize a more potent substance.

The belief that marijuana is healthy because it grows in nature presupposes two ideas:

If something grows in nature then it must be healthy.  Using this logic, one could argue that rubbing poison ivy on one’s skin or eating poisonous mushrooms is healthy.  In truth, some things in nature are healthy for consumption while others are not.

Plants that grow in nature were intended to be smoked by humans.  If marijuana exists for some cosmic purpose, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was intended to be smoked.  Perhaps human beings weren’t designed to smoke anything, since inhalation of smoke is a tissue irritant that is initially rejected by the body.  Tobacco, opium and coca all occur in nature, but I have encountered few marijuana users who believe that smoking those substances is healthy.  Historically, marijuana has been used for other purposes (e.g. rope, clothing, mats, fishnets and oils).

 

Myth#2:  Marijuana is harmless.  (“No one dies from it.”  “It never hurt anyone.”)  There is an element of truth in this belief, given the lack of strong evidence that marijuana use causes fatal overdose.  However, overdose is just one way in which substance use can be fatal.  In the 2002 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report, marijuana was the only substance involved in 2 overdoses, 35 deaths and 69 other drug-related deaths.  A national estimate of deaths associated with marijuana only is 581, but that figure might be low as some metropolitan areas do not include marijuana in toxicology tests and others do not report any toxicology results.  This number also excludes any deaths in which any substance besides marijuana was also detected.

Recent advances in technology have allowed scientists to unlock some of the mysteries of the brain.  THC molecules bind to receptor sites in areas of the brain responsible for the regulation of the functions found to be adversely affected by marijuana use, giving us an explanation for how marijuana does what it does.

For example, marijuana use can cause significant impairment when a person drives a vehicle or operates machinery, which undoubtedly poses a risk for accidents, legal problems and fatality.  Chronic use has been linked to cancers, respiratory ailments and immune system malfunction.  Marijuana causes sleep stage irregularities, affecting memory, immunologic functioning and subjective well-being.  Marijuana-related memory impairment can have vocational and educational implications.  Chronic use has been linked to reproductive impairment.  Young people with Axis I conditions (e.g. ADHD, bipolar disorder, psychotic disorders) are prone to self-medicating with marijuana, but use can exacerbate their symptoms.

Some teens used marijuana extensively during the pivotal developmental stage of adolescence.  They self-medicated with marijuana when they experienced aversive emotional states, whereas their non-using peers were developing healthier coping strategies.  Impairment emotional regulation and amotivational syndrome are often the results.  Having trained their minds to depend on foreign substance to achieve homeostasis, these individuals are left with few coping tools after they abstain.  Some individuals would consider prison, unemployment and even death as viable alternatives to life without marijuana.  Knowing the potential negative consequences of marijuana use might help clients make more informed decisions about use, abstinence and recovery.

Myth#3:  Most people smoke marijuana.  (Everybody does it.”  “You can’t tell me you haven’t.”)  Slightly greater than half of young Americans have tried marijuana at least once.  Findings from the 2007 Monitoring the Future Survey suggests that 42% of all 12th graders have used marijuana at least once, 32% have used in the last year, and 19% have used within the last month.  Findings from 2006 suggested that 57% of Americans ages 19 to 30 had tried the substance at least once in their lives, 26.5% had used in the last year and 14.9% within the last month.  However, most Americans do not continue to use the substance or use it regularly, as is the case with the typical client in treatment.  If it were true that most Americans used regularly, that would not prove that marijuana use was harmless for all people.  Nonetheless, individuals who present with cannabis-related disorders might be prone to rationalizing their use based on a belief that ‘everyone is doing it,” whereas knowing that abstinence is not atypical might be encouraging for some individuals who choose not to use.

Myth#4:  Marijuana makes you creative.  (“It expands your awareness.”  “It opens you up to new possibilities.’)  Some people think that marijuana use could enhance creativity given its enhancement of the senses and subjective nature of the concept of creativity.   However, when defined as divergent thinking, creativity is not enhanced by occasional use of marijuana and is diminished with regular use.  In a series of experiments in 1960s and 70s, participants evaluated their work as more creative when they were high than when they were abstinent, suggesting that people think themselves to be more creative only when experiencing euphoria.  Clients who value their creative works are encouraged by the fact that many successful artists are abstinent or in recovery, fueling confidence that one can be creative simply by using one’s natural abilities.

As parents it is important to be informed and have the answers to arguments before they arise.  An informed parent is credible and it is difficult for a child to argue with the facts.  Sharing opinions, values and beliefs is also an important part of parenting.  Have the conversations, someone will be, make sure you add your voice.

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2 Responses to Myths About Marijuana

  1. misty mann

    Your mom did have a way with words. What a great article from such a great teacher. Thanks for sharing it MeriAnn

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