Concerns regarding Youth and Marijuana
If you ask anyone in prevention about how they feel about the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, and 80% of them will answer with the same phrase- I am worried about the mixed messages being sent to youth. And they aren’t wrong. Legalization of marijuana is a mix of emotions no matter where it is discussed- it is touted as the savior of economies and social/racial injustice, a recall to a freer time, a harmless weed, and so much more. To those in prevention- it is still illegal federally, funded by a juggernaut of businesses including big tobacco, and a threat to brain development in youth. At Mercer Council, our primary function is to help our community be healthy, safe, and responsible, and all of those things come through education, and using scientific evidence to help create informed decisions. Our goal is to inform residents of Mercer County on the trends and concerns with changes in marijuana regulation.
According to the most recent Monitoring the Future Survey on High School Youth, daily use of marijuana among 8th graders, 10th graders and 12th graders has increased, while the percentage of youth who feel marijuana use is risky is on a downward trend. In fact, the percentage of youth vaping marijuana contributed to the 2nd highest increase of use over a single-year since the survey began 45 years ago.
Those who work with youth find these numbers concerning. Studies show that the biggest concern for youth and marijuana is the effect of THC- Tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychotropic element of marijuana- on brain development, primarily the development of the pre-frontal cortex. Research shows using marijuana regularly on a developing brain can have permanent negative side effects. There are concerns because THC levels are over 10 times more potent than decades past, and there are many new delivery systems that make these high levels of THC accessible on a frequent basis. Research has not kept up with this frequent high level exposure, and there are many concerns about the long term effects, especially on youth.
We focus on teens and young adults specifically, because fully formed brains for women and men vary in age. Women’s brains can become fully formed from 25-27. Men’s brains can become fully formed from ages 27-30. Another concern from reveals the connection between earlier use and addicition- studies show people who start using an illicit substance at the age of 18, have a 25% likelihood of getting addicted to the substance, as opposed to people over the age of 21, have a 4% likelihood of getting addicted to the illicit substance.
Other concerns point to loss of IQ, triggering genetic mental health conditions in a more severe manner, and findings that marijuana can alter DNA when used regularly. The prevalence of high THC oils that can be used in vape or dab pens, as well as ease of access to these products, has raised levels of concern for the health and safety of our youth. In addition, edibles have become a way for misuse- not knowing or adhering to serving sizes, taking too much as the high is much slower, and in many cases, children finding or mistakenly eating edibles that too often look identical to popular food products including cereals, breakfast pastries, candy, and soda. These, and many more health, safety, and legality issues remain unresolved and will need to be addressed regardless of legalization as use increases.
As we conclude this series, we hope that all use their privilege to vote, and take time to become familiar with the issues and candidates. Stay safe and healthy!
Employees of Mercer Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction are not funded nor affiliated with any sponsors of or business with the marijuana industry, including, but not limited to, marijuana for medicinal use, cannabis for recreational use, or the CDB Market.