What's New in Prevention?
“Marijuana is natural. It’s harmless.”
“My dad smokes weed sometimes. He said he started smoking it when he was my age. I don’t think it’s a big deal. Drinking is worse for you.”
“I just got my license. Sometimes I get nervous when I’m driving. Smoking pot relaxes me. I think it makes me a better driver.”
Real statements from real kids.
Many of our young people don’t think marijuana is problematic. Perception of harm has decreased. Myths are perpetuated through the media, through efforts to legalize, and through the increasing normalization of marijuana use. Teens, feeling tremendous stress from school, friends, and family life, see marijuana as a way to cope, to help them relax. Marijuana is one of the most commonly used substances among our kids – we have the data to back it up. According to the most recent CT Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 35% of high schools students report having used marijuana at least once. Twenty percent of Connecticut high school students have used marijuana one or more times in the last 30 days. Nationwide data from the National Institute of Health’s Monitoring the Future study shows that 68.9% of high school seniors do not view regular marijuana smoking as harmful.
While our kids think it’s no big deal, there is increasing evidence of the dangers of marijuana use. The recently published Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health includes information on the symptoms of use and withdrawal, and potential long term consequences and health effects for users. Marijuana use by adolescents can cause negative neurological effects, as well as health and safety issues. Short term symptoms include disinhibition, slowed reaction time, increased heart rate, decreased blood pressure, impaired balance and coordination, and problems with learning and memory. Mental health symptoms of marijuana use include hallucinations and delusions, anxiety, panic attacks, and psychosis. Long term consequences of use may include mental health problems; respiratory issues such as chronic cough and frequent infections, and increased risk for cancer of the head, neck, lungs and respiratory tract. The report also indicates that youth may experience a possible loss of IQ points when repeated use begins in adolescence. Long term marijuana use can lead to dependence and addiction. Withdrawal symptoms of marijuana use may include irritability, trouble sleeping, decreased appetite and anxiety. With new research into the effects of marijuana, more potent strains hitting the streets, and increased availability, the idea that it’s “just a little weed” couldn’t be further from the truth.
At the same time, there is reason for hope. The Surgeon General’s report also highlights the importance and effectiveness of prevention. It encourages use of comprehensive prevention programs focusing on risk and protective factors that have been proven successful in preventing marijuana use. Further, it suggests that parents and caregivers, as well as those with relationships with youth such teachers, coaches and others, become educated about marijuana’s effects in order to help prevent use and intervene when it has begun. Monitoring the Future provides an additional insight into youth views of marijuana: 68.5% of high school seniors disapprove of regular marijuana smoking.
The research is there – marijuana use is detrimental to our youth but at the same time, prevention is effective. Young people are ready to hear this message. Your work in prevention is more important than ever. The Partnership has tools and resources to support your efforts to educate and empower young people and the adults that care about them. The Organizational Spotlight and Resource Center have helpful information from local and national partners, as well as The Partnership’s own tools and trainings, to support your work. Additional resources can be found on our website or by contacting Kristen Granatek, Director of Prevention Initiatives at Kristen.Granatek@PreventionWorksCT.org or 860.523.8042.