EFFECTS OF MARIJUANA
by Julian Heicklen
aren't sending kids the message about pot use
By Darryl E. Owens - Knight Ridder Newspapers
ADVERSE EFFECTS OF MARIJUANA
by Julian Heicklen
July 30, 1999
In recent issues of Knight-Ridder newspapers there appears an
article by Darryl E. Owens about the failure of parents to send their
children the message about pot use. The article contains misinformation
that I would like to correct.
The Owens article states that children 12-17 who smoke marijuana
are 85 times more likely to use cocaine than those who do not. This
conclusion comes from the statistic that about 99% of cocaine users also
use marijuana. It is also true that 100% of cocaine users used milk. Does
that make milk more of a gateway drug than marijuana? Of course not. The
recent report by the National Institute of Medicine (IOM) says that
marijuana is not a gateway drug to harder drug use. In fact 83% of
marijuana users do not proceed to harder drugs. From this statistic, with
the logic used above, one could argue, equally erroneously, that marijuana
prevents 83% of drug users from going on to harder drugs.
The Owens article states that marijuana is implicated in impaired
short-term memory and stunted intellectual and emotional growth. Several
studies have shown that this is not true. The most recent study, done by a
group of researchers at the Johns Hopkins Hospital (Am. J. Epidemiol., 149,
pp.794-800, 1999), tested 1318 participants in Baltimore. After 12 years,
study participants' scores declined, but there were no significant
differences in cognitive decline between heavy users, light users, and non
users of cannabis.
The Owens article states that the marijuana used today measures
40-100 times more potent in 9-tetrahydrocanabinol (THC), the psychoactive
component in marijuana, than that of 30 years ago. Not so. The THC content
of marijuana varies from about 1-20%. Below 1%, there is no significant
psychoactivity. Between 1980 and 1994 (the years for which we have reliable
data), the average THC content of marijuana seized by police varied between
2.06 and 3.36% (Morgan and Zimmer, "Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts,"
1997). If one uses marijuana for recreational use, the highest THC content
is the best. Recreational marijuana smokers smoke until they reach the
desired level of intoxication. The higher the THC level, the less smoking
is required to reach this level. Thus the amount of harmful smoke and tar
that reaches the lungs is reduced.
The real harm of marijuana is stated in the IOM report. The
downsides to marijuana, said John A. Benson, Jr, MD, coprincipal
investigator of the report and dean and professor of medicine emeritus at
Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine in Portland.
"Marijuana's potential as medicine is seriously undermined by the fact that
people smoke it, thereby increasing their chance of cancer, lung damage,
and problems with pregnancies, including low birth weight."
In addition, while under the influence of marijuana, motor
coordination and judgment are impaired. I have analyzed the motor vehicle
accident reports and have concluded that marijuana is as likely as alcohol
to increase traffic accidents. However there is no evidence that marijuana
increases traffic fatalities. Unlike alcohol, which increases aggression
and recklessness, marijuana has a mellowing effect. Apparently marijuana
users, though impaired, drive more cautiously. Even though they do increase
accidents, these accidents apparently do not lead to an increase in
If parents and teachers want to reach their children about the true
dangers of marijuana use, they should stop lying to them about dangers that
do not exist. Otherwise the children will believe nothing at all that they
hear from adults.
aren't sending kids the
message about pot use
By Darryl E. Owens - Knight Ridder Newspapers
ORLANDO, Fla. -- In the '70s,
singer Rick James professed in song his love
for Mary Jane, a thinly veiled hipster reference to marijuana.
These days, middle schoolers
fire up joints for a morning buzz. At many
schools, it's the four Rs: reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic, and "reefer."
That their teens are smoking
pot would upset most parents. But a new national
survey shows parental disdain over marijuana use often loses something in the
The survey released last week
the by Hazelden Foundation in Minn-eapolis,
Minn., found that 98 percent of parents would be distressed if their teens
tried pot, and 86 percent have talked to their kids about the drug.
Yet, only 40 percent advised their kids against indulging.
Just one in five parents stressed that marijuana is illegal.
"This is a classic failure
to communicate," says Carol Falkowski, a senior
research analyst for Haz-elden, a nonprofit organization that provides
treatment, education, and prevention services for drug dependency.
Pot is the choice drug for
47 percent of the youngsters treated in New
Horizons, a program the Center for Drug-Free Living provides for Orange
County Schools, according to a center spokesperson. The average client age is 14.
"We were really doing a good
job with prevention messages, and I think we let
up a little bit," says Joan Ballard, director of community relations for the center,
which serves as an Orlando treatment and education outlet. "We skipped a generation."
The Hazelden survey, which
measured parents' attitudes and practices relative
to teenage marijuana use, is the latest in the recently re-ignited marijuana
debate. Recent months have seen the release of studies validating the medicinal
value of marijuana and waffling on its nature as a "gateway" drug -- one that
precedes the abuse of more dangerous drugs.
A report this month from the
National Center on Addiction and Substance
Abuse at Columbia Uni-versity concluded children 12 to 17 who smoke
marijuana are 85 times more likely to use cocaine than those who do not.
That's a haunting proposition
when you consider that of the 182,000 teens and
children who entered treatment in 1996 for substance abuse, according to that
report, nearly half -- 48 percent -- were admitted for marijuana abuse or addiction.
Why the upturn in juvenile marijuana abuse?
Perhaps, say experts, children are hazy over regards for marijuana.
And there are some obvious reasons for that:
Of the parents Hazelden surveyed,
41 percent once smoked marijuana. Many
parents probably sucked a few puffs from a joint, giggled, and still managed to
reach middle class. They might not welcome pot use, but the notion that they
did it without negative consequences may dampen the intensity of their cautions
to children. Things are different today. In the past, adolescents
discovered pot in their late teens or 20s.
Now, children too young to
view certain movies without an adult can turn to
their locker neighbor for a joint, or name another child who can supply one.
Pot use among eighth graders
increased from 9.1 percent in 1995 to 11.3
percent in 1996, according to a recent survey. Among 10th graders, marijuana
use climbed from 17.2 percent to 20.4 percent during the same period.
The way pot is consumed has
also changed. In addition to those funny
hand-rolled cigarettes, teens smoke "blunts." A blunt, says Dr. Scott Farmer,
chairman of the department of psychiatry at Florida Hospital in Orlando, is a
5-inch long cigar in which the tobacco is cored out and replaced with marijuana.
Blunts are mentioned in many
popular rap songs, and Farmer says the music
has helped accelerate the migration of the method into middle class America by romanticizing pot use.
Most troubling, though, is
that today's pot packs a bigger wallop than 30 years
ago. The level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC -- the substance in marijuana
that produces the high -- measures 40 to 100 times more potent than the pot
that was distributed years ago.
By today's standards, the pot parents once smoked "would be considered ditch weed," Falkowski said.
"Stronger potency means faster progress from first use to problem use."
Problem use portends grave
implications such as impaired short-term memory,
stunted intellectual and emotional growth, and an in-creased risk of unprotected sex.
Parents must speak up, experts
say. It's one thing to abhor drug use, but it is
quite another to clearly say so.
And, according to Hazelden's poll, parents aren't saying the right things.
Farmer says that parents often
misstep by discussing drugs in an "overly
abstract philosophical level" or "insulting their children by addressing the issue
in black and white -- 'It's against the law, don't do it' -- and close the
discussion before the child can be valued as a thinking member of the
Perhaps the most powerful
way to immunize children against drug abuse, he
says, is to value the child and his opinions.
Listen to your child. Let
him outline his current impressions on drug use. Draw
some examples from his experience.
Maybe he knows of a star athlete
who smokes pot, a scenario that contradicts
with messages that drugs impair performance.
Acknowledge that his conclusion
is derived from observation, and inject your
views about the hazards of drug use.
Here parents need to clearly
outline rules and consequences. Just over half of
parents (55 percent) in the Hazelden survey bothered to give their children any
disciplinary consequences related to pot use.
"Kids have to have a reason
to say no," said Adele Kempe, supervisor of the
family program at Hanley-Hazelden Center at St. Mary's in West Palm Beach.
"Parents can provide that
by saying they disapprove of it and that there
will be clear consequences so the child can factor that in when making (a) decision