Archive for June, 2016
Marijuana or cannabis is still the leading illicit drug abused by teenagers in the United States. In 2014, the Substance Abuse for Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that an estimated 22.2 million Americans ages 12 or older were current users of marijuana. Of this number, 7.4% represented adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17.
The results of the 2014 Monitoring the Future Survey, a statistical study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) revealed more detailed information. It showed that over the past month, marijuana use among 8th graders was at 6.5%, among 10th graders at 16.6%, and among 12th graders at 21.2%.
Both reports concluded that the trends show that marijuana use among teenage Americans remains stable. While recreational marijuana is federally illegal and banned in most states, its availability is widespread and it continues to be the primary drug for most adolescents.
Effects on Adolescents
In the recent years, a number of research studies have shown that early use of marijuana can lead to several issues that affect the user’s physical, mental, and psychological health in adult years. It is also associated with behavioral and social concerns. Here are some of the effects of marijuana use on teenagers:
Changes in the brain
Marijuana contains over a 400 hundred compounds that include at least 65 cannabinoids. The main active cannabinoid responsible for the drug’s psychoactive effects which cause an elevated euphoria or “high” that is sought by abusers is called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
When THC enters the brain, it activates certain receptors that are critical for normal brain function and healthy development. High levels of THC greatly affect those receptors that control pleasure, mood, sensory and time perception, coordination, communication, learning, memory, and other cognitive functions.
Several studies conducted among adolescent users of marijuana have found that the drug causes structural brain abnormalities and impairs some vital mental functions. THC has been shown to affect the shape, density, and volume of the brain. Heavy users are likely to damage the white matter and gray matter which are associated with cognition, communication, and memory. These effects have been found to be more pronounced in users who start smoking the substance before the age of 16 or between the ages of 16 and 18.
In addition, the brain alterations caused by early exposure and use of the drug inhibit brain development which leads to lower IQ levels and learning deficiencies among teens.
Mental and psychiatric health
The use of marijuana in the adolescent years increases the chances of developing mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse disorders in adulthood. These psychiatric disorders are attributed to the drug’s psychoactive properties which are likely to bear long-term detrimental effects.
A study conducted in Sweden in 2002 established findings that those who smoke marijuana at the age of 18 increase their chances of developing schizophrenia sixfold. Subsequent investigations further concluded that those with pre-existing genetic conditions for psychosis such as schizophrenia may acquire the illness as a result of smoking marijuana.
Frequent or heavy use of the drug during the adolescence years has also been linked to depression and anxiety disorders during adulthood. While the substance may temporarily relieve depression, habitual use can put users at high risk of manifesting symptoms of both depression and anxiety in later years.
Marijuana use in teenage years can also lead to suicidal tendencies and behavioral disorders including aggression and violence in young adulthood. Statistics show that those who begin using marijuana before the age of 17 are three times more likely to attempt suicide.
The effects of the active ingredients in marijuana that affect mental processes begin soon after ingestion and can last for several days to weeks. As a result, adolescents who use the drug on a regular basis perform at lower intellectual levels due to the impairment of their learning and cognitive abilities.
Several studies have found that marijuana use is correlated with reduced chances of finishing high school or earning a college degree. Users are more likely to underperform in school compared to their non-smoking peers. For instance, the Healthy Youth Survey conducted in Washington State in 2012 revealed that high school students who were habitual users of marijuana got lower grades compared to those who did not engage in drug use.
Teenage marijuana use is also associated with socioeconomic issues in adult years. These include poor educational attainment, low income, unemployment, welfare dependence, problematic interpersonal relationships, disrupted family lives, criminal behavior, and life dissatisfaction.
Smoking marijuana can adversely affect the user’s health the same way that smoking tobacco does. It can cause respiratory illnesses and infections such as chronic cough, bronchitis, pneumonia, emphysema, and even lung cancer. Because the drug contains more harmful compounds than tobacco products, habitual marijuana use can produce more dangerous health consequences than tobacco use.
Within a few minutes from smoking marijuana, a person experiences increased heart rate by about 20 to 50 beats. This increases the risk for incurring cardiovascular problems such as arrhythmia, hypertension, and similar conditions.
Studies have shown that marijuana use is linked to testicular cancer among men. One investigation conducted among men in the Seattle area showed that marijuana users are at a higher risk of developing this type of cancer compared to non-users. It further concluded that those initiated to marijuana use at an age younger than 18, face a higher probability of incurring the disease.
Addiction and withdrawal
The compounds of cannabis are highly addictive and users are most likely to develop a tolerance for and dependence on the substance. It has been reported that about 17 percent of those who begin using marijuana during their adolescent years become addicted to the drug.
Addiction can cause the users to experience withdrawal symptoms whenever they attempt to cease using the drug or abruptly lower the dose of the substance ingested. Such symptoms include increased cravings, mood changes, decreased appetite, sleep disturbances, irritability, and anxiety. A user will begin to experience these symptoms within the first 24 hours following cessation. The same can last up to three days.
The severity of the marijuana withdrawal symptoms varies according to the duration or gravity of the drug dependence. In most cases, quitting voluntarily can be very difficult as when pharmacological treatment is necessary to alleviate and manage the withdrawal symptoms brought about by the physiological dependence on the substance. Thus, it is strongly advised that professional help is sought for the treatment of marijuana abuse.
Gateway to other drugs
Marijuana addiction is also linked to abuse of other substances including tobacco, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, and prescription drugs. It has been observed that those who engage in marijuana use in their teenage years are likely to progress to more severe forms of substance abuse in later years. This is known as the “gateway phenomenon.”
It has also been observed that chronic users usually use the drug in addition to alcohol or tobacco. This practice tremendously increases their risks for developing health complications.
Confronting teen marijuana abuse can be devastating for a parent. The problem disrupts family life and it promotes fear for the welfare and safety of both the child and the home. But marijuana use should not be dismissed as a passing phase or fad in your teenager’s life. The perils caused by substance abuse could be averted by timely intervention. Thus, it is best to address the issue as soon as possible.
If you have observed signs of marijuana abuse include changes in mood, poor academic performance, decreased appetite, emotional disturbances, and other signs indicative of drug abuse, then sit down with your child and discuss the issues. Afterward, make sure to have your teenager immediately evaluated by a physician.
Certain diagnostic tests such as urine testing are performed to determine recent marijuana use. A urine test result will show whether or not there has been drug use in the last two to four days. Other tests including saliva, sweat, and hair can also be performed.
It is crucial that these interventions are done promptly in order to arrive at the correct diagnosis. Should your child test positive for drug use, consult the appropriate health specialists and enroll him a treatment program.
Both outpatient and inpatient programs are available for the treatment of marijuana addiction. These programs implement various approaches to help the patient cope with withdrawal symptoms and develop strategies to avoid a relapse.
Some of the behavioral therapies that have been found to be effective include cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, motivational enhancement therapy, and family counseling sessions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy intends to teach patients methods to identify problematic behaviors and to develop techniques for handling such issues to help them prevent a recurrence of drug addiction.
Contingency management is a treatment approach that aims to promote a “reward system” by providing patients with incentives for each time they test negative for drugs. These are in the form of vouchers which may be exchanged for goods or services. This method encourages users to intentionally abstain from marijuana use.
As the name implies, the goal of motivational enhancement therapy is to assist patients to develop internal motivation to turn away from drugs and to stay on the path towards recovery.
Family therapies such as multidimensional therapy and family support therapy are designed to help establish a support base for the adolescent. The approach emphasizes the importance of discouraging marijuana use.
Some studies have shown that teens whose parents attend some form of family counseling and support sessions are more likely to reduce and eliminate drug dependence compared to those whose families do not undergo similar therapies.
There is yet no pharmacologic preparation that has been approved to effectively treat marijuana use disorder. However, several medications are available to manage and relieve withdrawal symptoms. These include antidepressants such as Nefazodone and Fluoxetine.
However, several research studies are being undertaken to find more efficient medications. The majority of the clinical trials that have been conducted focus on finding remedies to address the sleep disorders associated with marijuana withdrawal. Among the medications that have shown some potential include Zolpidem, Buspirone, and Gabapentin.
Other studies are geared towards finding nutritional supplements that would aid the inhibition of cannabinoids in the body to successfully reduce and eliminate withdrawal symptoms.
In conclusion, marijuana use puts adolescents and children at a high risk for developing several long-term problems. Teens often underestimate the potential harm to which they expose themselves by initiating the use of the substance. The addictive quality of marijuana that is currently available has been found to be three to five times stronger those in the 60s. Thus, using it a few times even for experimental purposes can pave the way towards dependence and abuse.
The importance of parental guidance and monitoring cannot be underscored. The dangers of marijuana use should be openly discussed in the home and the kids should be strongly advised against its use. When parents state their firm disapproval of any recreational drug or substance use, adolescents are less likely to engage in the same.
Shaping the future of American teenagers is a responsibility that should be first undertaken in the home. Parents are given both the privilege and the obligation to ensure these teenagers evade the path that leads to drug abuse and its dismal effects. It is a crucial role that cannot be taken for granted.