Having spent a weekend at the (CCSAD) Cape Cod Symposium on Addictive Disorders last month, I have a new found appreciation for my mother’s old saying, “If you keep smoking that sh_t, you’re going to become brain dead”. During the weekend, I made it a point to attend as many presentations as possible concerning the effects of adolescent marijuana use and brain development. I will attempt to recap, para-phrase and relay in a general way, what was conveyed to me as a growing misunderstanding, that smoking marijuana is OK and it really doesn’t harm kids because it’s a natural high. As I left the weekend and began driving to yet another one of my children’s sporting events, I called my mom to say thanks for being so “blunt” about smoking “pot” when I was a kid growing up in the 1970’s. I told her that I loved her, she did her best and I wished that I listened to her more often. I am surely not a scientist, nor did I finish top in my class but I did learn life, the hard way, by trial and error. More errors than successes were the norm in my teens and 20’s. Thankfully my 30’s and beyond have had many more successes and triumphs due to good orderly direction and listening to my elders.
Marijuana use during the crucial adolescent “synaptic pruning” years (7-22) hampers and impairs “your wiring”, forever. Synaptic pruning is the natural process of shaping the brain in the same way as you would prune your overgrown hedges, flower beds or a garden. The brain is the most complex entity in the universe and it will create new ways to develop during marijuana use. These new avenues of thought are slower and or take longer routes from point A to B, thus slowing down our ability to process. The socioeconomic concerns are just as alarming because marijuana use under age 17 leads to less employment, more likely to be single (not a bad thing if you live in my house these days), lower overall life satisfaction (again, not that high at the Della Penna residence these days). Lastly, our emotional wellbeing is also affected by marijuana use which brings us to the three horsemen of anxiety, depression and suicide. Anxiety, depression and suicide have 2x greater odds to develop if weekly marijuana use began before the age of 15. Therefore, teenagers need to learn to control reckless, irrational behavior and avoid consuming drugs and alcohol at all costs.
Controlling reckless and irrational behavior is easier said than done. I am at fault more times in any given 24 hour period than most of today’s teenagers due to some of my own adolescent NON-pruning activities. I was and still am very far from Sainthood. But, the point is, that teenage marijuana use is associated with less grey matter (thinking part), more white matter (insulation), less body height and lower body weight. That sounds like a short, skinny, dazed and confused young person wandering aimlessly around in today’s land of high charging, high profile, over achieving, straight A, college bound High School students. Other results have found a direct correlation between adolescent problems and marijuana use at a younger age, or with frequent use, or more potent THC levels. The better the weed, the sooner you start smoking, the more you smoke it, the more trouble it causes. Either way you slice it, it’s not good.
Which brings me back to the 70’s where bell bottoms, joints and keg parties ruled. Pot, refer, smoke, joint, blunt, dubbie, toke, hot box, one hitter, bud, bag, ounce, 2 finger bag, rolling machine, roach, roach clip, bong, water-pipe, stoner, jelly-head, pot-head were all associated with a naturally grown substance mostly imported from Columbia called marijuana. Please do not forget the album cover, how else would one screen the stems and seeds from the dried bits of leaves and the occasional bud in a “dime bag”. Marijuana and THC levels of the 70’s were much lower than subsequent decades because THC has a higher concentration the fresher the bud. Each decade has improved the potency and freshness with the aid of technology. See, technology is good for something. Pot is now grown domestically and with an average of 60% higher THC level. So taking 6 hits off a joint or 6 full bong hits in the 70’s got you super stoned. Smoking the same amount today would put you into outer space. The higher THC content is the dangerous part of today’s daily user. The higher the content, the higher the tolerance, the more you need to smoke, the higher you need to get, the more you need to add to your high. I am not here to debate whether smoking pot leads to harder drugs, but why take the chance. The generation I grew up in was rock-n-roll, keg parties, joints and if luck would have it, the occasional blissful night spent with my girlfriend in the back seat of my best friend’s car. We started with alcohol then pot, then sex, then etc…
So why would one want to participate in sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. It’s actually very simple, it feels good. Dopamine is the naturally occurring “feel good” chemical that is produced in our bodies. The percentages of dopamine that increases in the body when outside entities are introduced are as follows: Food increases 50%, sex increases 150% (for men ONLY, my attempt at humor), alcohol 300%, Opiates & Cocaine 700%, Methamphetamine & Crack Cocaine 1200%. Marijuana like these other substances has similar effects on the dopamine process. So you can see that we start with a slice of gramma’s apple pie, run to the back shed with our soul mate for a quickie, shotgun 2 tallboys, pop mom’s Xanax, grab a vile from dad’s coke supply and do a line of blow, then snort a dime bag of “H”, Yes Heroin, and while you’re at it do some Meth or Crank and top it off with a crack pipe full of the naturally grown coca plant. So please don’t try and debate that marijuana is a natural product and that mother-nature wants us to smoke it. Yes cocaine is a naturally produced derivative and is extracted from the coca plant. Would you allow your child to snort, free-base or shoot cocaine? Would you allow your child to use the naturally grown poppy plant derivative, Heroin? Drugs and alcohol are not recommended for the youth of today just as they were discouraged back in the 70’s or any other decade. They effect and affect our children negatively. With today’s knowledge and the consequences of early drug use, it is our job as parents to be on the lookout for signs of alcohol and or drug use. Smoking marijuana is not only illegal, it’s also harmful.
Some signs of marijuana use can make your teenager have distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty thinking and problem solving, ongoing problems with learning and memory. Frequent marijuana users have red, blurry, bloodshot eyes. They have constant mucous-filled cough, rapid heartbeat, are hungry after use or have the munchies, dry mouth or cotton mouth, anxiety, paranoia, fear, slow reaction time. These symptoms are not limited to marijuana use but can also be associated with other harmful substances. For those that think teenage consumption of alcohol is ok, please reconsider. Alcohol is nothing more than a liquid drug. The legal drinking age is 21 for a reason. Your brain is still developing its’ wiring so please give it a chance to develop a strong, healthy and mature problem solving entity. It’s the only one you get.