This week I was able to spend extra time with my family and enjoy the beauty of Kodiak. My husband, sons and I love living in Kodiak and we are excited to raise our kids in this community. This week I have been thinking about how to make this amazing community better for our children.
I think that one of the most important things we can do for our community’s future is to prevent our kids from using marijuana. Regularly using marijuana before the age of 21 has permanent, life-changing, brain-damaging effects.
I know that marijuana is a controversial topic, and as such we can send mixed messages to our children and adolescents regarding its safety. There is no controversy regarding the negative effects of marijuana on teenagers’ brains. Regular marijuana use results in volume loss in the brain in the hippocampus and amygdala, areas responsible for memory and emotions, including anxiety. Connectivity in the brain, a vital function for memory and cognition, is also significantly reduced when the developing brain is exposed to marijuana.
Teenagers who begin using marijuana regularly before age 18 permanently lose about eight points on their intelligence quotient. Schizophrenia, a debilitating psychiatric condition, is four times higher among teenagers who use marijuana. About 9 percent of adult marijuana users may develop addiction, but that rate is as high as 16 percent when teenagers regularly use marijuana before the age of 17. Teenagers using marijuana regularly have higher rates of dropping out of school, crime, suicidal behavior and using other illicit drugs than teenagers who do not use marijuana.
Marijuana’s active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) causes its effects by stimulating naturally occurring receptors in the brain and body called cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are located throughout the brain and affect alertness, cognition, memory, emotion and coordination. Cannabinoid receptors also regulate brain development, which continues until about age 21.
Marijuana use causes dopamine to be released in the pleasure center of the brain, the nucleus accumbens. Usually this area is stimulated by pleasurable experiences from interpersonal relationships, food, sex, music or accomplishments, but when it is stimulated by a drug, addictive behavior can result. Repeated stimulation by a drug can decrease the brain’s natural ability to experience pleasure.
Marijuana potency has increased substantially in the last decade. The active ingredient concentration has gone up from 4 percent to about 12 percent, resulting in higher plasma concentrations in users and higher addictive potential.
The annual study of teenagers and drug use, called Monitoring the Future, has shown some amazing trends. Cigarette smoking among teens has substantially decreased due to prevention campaigns. Marijuana use has increased since 1992 to the point where monthly use of marijuana among high school seniors is higher than cigarette use (21 percent versus 11 percent). About 6 percent of high school seniors admit to using marijuana daily, and 44 percent of high school seniors have tried marijuana. 79 percent of high school seniors said that marijuana was easy to obtain. In 1991, 78 percent of high school seniors thought regular marijuana use was risky, and now only 32 percent believe there is danger in regular use.
I hope that as a community we can be united in our efforts to educate our teenagers and children about the dangers of marijuana use, because prevention is truly our most valuable resource in the war against drugs and addiction. Addiction begins a cycle which spirals into social isolation, loss of control, and eventual slavery to the habit. Let’s celebrate our freedom by keeping our kids free of addiction.
“Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved, for you are my praise” (Jeremiah 17:14).