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Thursday, 22 March 2001

Expert's Comments on Substance Abuse: Marijuana

Written by  Dr. Oscar Taube, M.D.

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Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the U.S. Studies have shown that the number of teenagers who have reported using marijuana nearly doubled from 1991 to 1997. By 1997, 50% of high school seniors reported having used marijuana and 88% reported that marijuana was either "fairly easy" or "very easy" to obtain.

Our drama with Seth illustrates some of the most common reasons teenagers try marijuana: peer pressure, a wish to fit in, a quick way to feel good, have fun, relax, and improve performance. Teenagers give other reasons for trying marijuana: to avoid dealing with problems, to rebel and be different, to get attention, and to satisfy curiosity. In addition, many teenagers believe media portrayals of marijuana as a "cool" drug, with very few side effects.

Unfortunately, marijuana has many bad effects, both short- and long-term. In the last 30-40 years these ill effects have intensified, because today's marijuana is about 25 times stronger that it was in the 1960's. THC, the main ingredient in marijuana, builds up in the body, contributing to the long-term effects of marijuana. The body takes several WEEKS to get rid of the chemicals from just one marijuana cigarette.

In the short term, marijuana DECREASES your reaction time. In our story, Seth would find it harder to track moving objects, and to judge time and distance while using marijuana. In addition, he would be less coordinated. Seth's athletic performance, therefore, would be much worse, not better with marijuana: it is not a "performance enhancing drug."

Seth also has good reason to be afraid to drive after smoking that joint. Marijuana intoxication contributes significantly to accidental deaths and injuries, especially motor vehicle crashes. We've already mentioned the problems in judging time and distance; in addition, marijuana slows reaction time.

Smoking marijuana can cloud a teenager's judgment in other ways, leading a young person to do things he/she would not normally do, such as having sex, or having sex without using contraception. This increases a teen's chance of experiencing an unplanned pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease like syphilis and HIV. If a teenager is pregnant, it's important to know that babies born to mothers who smoke marijuana during pregnancy are smaller and weigh less, which puts them at risk for many medical problems.

There are also many long-term side effects of marijuana use. In boys, it can lower the sperm count and testosterone levels. It causes irregular menstrual periods and irregular ovulation in girls. Studies have shown that marijuana use can damage the heart and lungs. In addition, marijuana affects the immune system, and can weaken the body's ability to fight tumors. This increases a teen's risk for cancer.

The most important "job" for most teenagers, like Seth in our drama, is to complete their education. Regular marijuana use worsens short-term memory, learning, and attention span. These problems with learning last as long as 6 weeks after stopping marijuana!

Finally, the worst consequence of marijuana use is that it is considered to be a "gateway drug." Although trying marijuana does not necessarily mean a teen will move on to other, "harder" drugs, studies have shown that teenagers who use marijuana are 104 times more likely to use cocaine than those who have never smoked marijuana before.

A special final word to our teenage readers: Being a teenager is hard enough without adding drugs to complicate things. It can be hard to say "no" especially when your friends are pushing you to try marijuana. But you have to believe in yourself and trust that you know what's right and wrong for you.

We can tell you about all the reasons why you shouldn't smoke marijuana, but we can't be there with you to help you say, "no" to drugs. But just as we can't make you say "no" to marijuana, no one else can make you say "yes." No one can force you to smoke a joint. You have all the facts. The choice is yours.

Last modified on Monday, 11 April 2011 09:38
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Dr. Oscar Taube, M.D.

Dr. Oscar Taube, M.D.

Dr. Oscar Taube is the Clinical Director and Director of Medical Education at Greenspring Pediatric Associates (Sinai Hospital Pediatric Outpatient Department) in Baltimore, and the Coordinator of Adolescent Medicine at Sinai Hospital's Department of Pediatrics. He is also an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

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