Health risks of marijuana
The biggest health concern for young people using marijuana is its harmful effect on the brain, which continues its development well into a person’s 20s, Dr. Thurstone said.
The main active ingredient in marijuana, THC, binds to receptors in the brain and can cause a significant decrease in IQ over time. A 2012 study published in the National Academy of Sciences found that adolescent exposure to marijuana can lead to an 8-point drop in IQ, on par with the drop seen in children exposed to lead.
Another concerning impact is the relationship between adolescent marijuana use and schizophrenia. A study repeated by multiple research groups has found that adolescent marijuana use can quadruple a teen’s risk of developing schizophrenia, Dr. Thurstone said.
Marijuana can also be addictive, with one in six adolescent users developing a dependence over time, despite the perceptions to the contrary.
“In the scientific and medical community there’s not debate about that anymore,” he said. “Marijuana is not just psychologically addictive but physically addictive.”
A secondary health risk of marijuana use in adolescents is car accidents. The leading cause of death of 15-20 year-olds is automobile accidents, and the number traffic fatalities in which adolescents testing positive for marijuana spiked in Colo. after the surge of medical marijuana in the state after 2009.
Part of the problem, Dr. Thurstone said, is that people don’t understand how marijuana influences driving differently than alcohol. Marijuana is fat soluble, and its effects on the body last much longer than water-soluble alcohol.
“That’s a myth, that it’s safe to drive under the influence of marijuana, we have to get good information out there around that,” he said.
Adolescent marijuana use is also associated with a lack of success in school, a major determining factor in quality of life over time.
“Everybody pretty much agrees it’s not a healthy thing in adolescents,” he said.
Motivating young people to avoid marijuana
The best way to talk to students about marijuana is to get personal, Holien said.
In her work with five Denver area middle schools on prevention tactics, she said she’s found the messaging that most resonates with students is how marijuana use could affect their various goals.
“It’s really understanding for each individual youth...what is really important to them,” she said.
“Is it getting into college? Is it staying on the team? Is it making sure their academics are up to par? But just understanding that marijuana, or really any substance use can get in the way of those goals, especially when you think about the ways that it does impact the brain.”
When Fr. Mussett talks to his students about marijuana, he says he always approaches it from the traditional moral lens – which looks at the intention, object of choice, and circumstances of use. As for motivating students to not use marijuana, he’s found that most helpful conversation is to focus especially on an individual’s intentionality behind their use.
Marijuana is unfortunately a synthetic spiritual life. It doesn’t actually help people get in touch with God and to contemplate the world and be in touch with the real.
“People don’t want to feel pain, people want to have a contemplative act, they want to be in touch, they want to be one with the universe, they want a transcendent experience, they want to have communion with others, which are all good things,” he said.
“So when I’m talking to people, I’m always walking them through ‘Ok, how does marijuana accomplish that? Is that’s something that’s a sustainable, valuable reality? Or is it an artificial simulation of that?’”
He said he then tries to help students find ways to accomplish those things without the use of marijuana or drugs – especially if it’s a true spiritual life they’re looking for.
“Marijuana is unfortunately a synthetic spiritual life. It doesn’t actually help people get in touch with God and to contemplate the world and be in touch with the real,” he said.
“And so the only counteraction to it I really see is to live an authentic spiritual life, and to seek whole ways rather than synthetic ways to experience communion, to understand your pain, to contemplate the real. I really think a life in Christ is the best solution for those people who are looking for these things.”
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