To the editor:
The Healthy Gloucester Collaborative wants to help adults support youth in making healthy choices and send a clear message that substance use impacts their health and can disrupt their future.
Teen marijuana use nationwide is at a 30-year high, with 1 in 10 U.S teens reporting heavy marijuana use.
“Marijuana has become increasingly powerful in the past 20 years… marijuana is not a “harmless gateway drug, marijuana is a drug … period,” according to the student support specialist at North Shore Recovery High School.
In September, Duke University reported teens with marijuana dependency who continued using into adulthood had cognitive decline of about 8 IQ points. They noted those who started using marijuana as adults did not experience a drop in IQ. That’s because teenage brains are different.
Brain development, once thought to end in early adolescence, is now confirmed to continue into early adulthood. Rapid brain growth, or ‘blossoming”, occurs between ages of 10-12.
“THC,” the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, acts on the part of the brain that impacts memory and learning. Regular teen marijuana use affects these areas disrupting healthy development of neural pathways.
There are a number of myths and facts to address:
Myth: “Marijuana … everyone is doing it.”
Fact: According to a 2011 Gloucester student health survey, 34% of Gloucester High School teens report “current” marijuana use within 30 days of the survey. The Massachusetts average is 28 percent. It’s important to note that 66 percent reported no current use.
Fact: Gloucester teens report “someone living in their household who uses marijuana” has increased 22-25 percent from 2007-11.
Myth: “Marijuana isn’t so bad, the law says it’s OK to have up to an ounce ... and no real consequences if I have more.”
Perception of Harm: The lower the “perception of harm”, the higher the use. Youth “perception of marijuana harm” fell 77 percent to 46 percent nationwide from 2007-11..
Fact: One ounce of marijuana can equal 60-120 joints.
“The 2008 state law made it difficult for municipalities to enact civil fines and has potentially led youth to believe it is more acceptable to possess and smoke this still illegal and harmful drug,” says Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello.
Myth: Marijuana is an “organic choice.”
Fact: THC potency has increased at least five times since the 1970s; has 400-plus chemicals; and stays in the brain up to 7 years. (Visit Mass.gov/dph/bsas).
“Most disturbing in the Duke study is the long term decline in brain function for those who began regular marijuana use as teens, even if they stopped.” — Dr. Kathryn Hollett, Healthy Gloucester Collaborative and Gloucester Family Health Center.
“Youth justify use saying it is organic and ‘everyone’ does it. Marijuana is not harmless and can exacerbate underlying mental health problems” — Lisa Schott, LICSW
Please talk with your teen; here are a few tips:
Explain marijuana facts in basic terms and relate to athletic performance and grades — Dr. John Knight, Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research (CeASAR, Boston Children’s Hospital.)
Discuss the pros and cons of marijuana and ask your youth to argue the con’s to reinforce harm — Dr. Mona Potter, McLean Hospital.
Seek support from your pediatrician. CeASAR recommends discussing drug and alcohol use as early as nine or ten to prepare youth.
Your attention matters. Talk early and often!
Director, Healthy Gloucester Collaborative
CHIEF LEONARD CAMPANELLO
Chief, Gloucester Police Department
Dr. KATHRYN HOLLETT
Gloucester Family Health Center
Family Health Center