Marijuana is the most common illicit drug used in the United States, and it is the most frequently identified drug seized in the St. Louis Metro area. The growing belief that marijuana is a safe drug may be the result of public discussions about medical marijuana and the public debate over the drug’s legal status. Some naively assume marijuana cannot be harmful because it is “natural,” but not all natural plants are good for you-take tobacco, for example.

Today’s young people are less likely to disapprove of regular marijuana use, which indicates warnings regarding the risk associated with teen cannabis use have fallen on teens’ deaf ears. In fact, in the past 10 years, the number of high schoolers who think regular marijuana use is risky has dropped dramatically, according to Centers for Disease Control’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. The change in attitudes is reflected by increasing rates of use among high schoolers. From 2008 to 2013, past-month use of marijuana increased from 13% to 18% among 10th graders and from 19% to 22% among 12th graders.

Contrary to popular belief, marijuana use does not come consequence-free. Marijuana use can impair learning, memory, perception and judgment and can lead to dulled emotions and lack of enthusiasm. Because cannabis use contributes to difficulty speaking, listening effectively, retaining knowledge, problem solving and forming new concepts, it is especially risky for use by students, who are trying to succeed academically. Use over time has consistently shown to have a negative impact on IQ.

Research has shown that marijuana’s negative effects on attention, memory, and learning can last for days or weeks after the acute effects of the drug wear off. Consequently, someone who smokes marijuana daily may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level most or all of the time. Not surprisingly, evidence suggests that, compared with their nonsmoking peers, students who smoke marijuana tend to get lower grades and are more likely to drop out of high school. A meta-analysis of 48 relevant studies-one of the most thorough performed to date-found cannabis use to be associated consistently with reduced educational attainment (e.g., grades and chances of graduating). That said, marijuana users themselves report poor outcomes on a variety of life satisfaction and achievement measures.

The naked truth is that teens using marijuana expose themselves to changes in brain chemistry, which can result in learning, memory problems and IQ loss. Contrary to common belief, marijuana can be addictive. In fact, marijuana addiction results in the withdrawal and craving symptoms that are at the root of addictive disorders. But here’s the kicker: The addiction rate jumps to about 1 in 6 among people who start using marijuana as teenagers, and up to half of daily users!

How can parents and teachers recognize a student who may be using marijuana? Several signs of abuse are frequently visible:

 

  • red, blurry, bloodshot eyes
  • constant, mucus-filled cough
  • hunger, often referred to as munchies, and dry mouth
  • anxiety, paranoia, or fear
  • poor memory and declining grades
  • poor motor coordination and slow reaction time

Though the move toward marijuana legalization for adults is gaining steam across the country, parents and teachers who care about the health, safety, and academic attainment of our youth should not be led into a false security about marijuana’s safety. When a student is found to be using marijuana, responsible adults respond immediately and seriously. The most recommended response is to insist that the student receive a thorough, professional substance use evaluation. When parents and schools, together, recognize that marijuana use comes with serious consequences and is unacceptable for our youth, all our children benefit.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use or other addictive processes, help is available through West County Psychological Associates. Feel free to call and ask to speak with a therapist who can discuss your needs.

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