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Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug among America's youth today, according to the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, and kids are smoking it at a younger age than ever before. Moreover, the strength of the drug has increased in the past two decades, and adulterants are often added to increase its effects.

Marijuana is a product of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. The main active chemical in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). Of the roughly 400 chemicals found in the cannabis plant, THC affects the brain the most. Most users roll loose marijuana into a cigarette called a "joint." It can be smoked in a pipe, water pipe ("bong"), or mixed into food or brewed as a tea. It has also appeared in cigars called "blunts." Blunts are especially dangerous because they are laced with harsher drugs such as cocaine and heroine. Many kids think marijuana is harmless. References to marijuana abound in movies, in popular music and on TV, making it seem normal and "cool" to use the harmful drug. Parents admit to being ambivalent about the drug and unaware of its risks to young users.

Short term effects of marijuana use include dry mouth and throat, problems with memory and learning, distorted perceptions (sights, sound, time and touch), trouble with thinking and problem solving, loss of motor coordination, increased heart rate, and anxiety. These effects are even greater when other drugs are mixed with marijuana.

In the long run, marijuana smoke contains some of the same cancer-causing compounds as tobacco, sometimes in higher concentrations. Someone who smokes 1 to 3 joints can produce the same lung damage and potential risk for cancer as smoking five times as many cigarettes.

Marijuana is a serious, harmful drug, yet because of the false information that surrounds and supports it, many people do not perceive marijuana to be a problem. Since the 1990s, surveys have shown that marijuana use among youth has increased as perceptions of risk and peer disapproval among youth have declined. The fact is, it's not just marijuana, it is a very harmful drug. We are going to take a look at a couple of the myths that surround marijuana use and then look at the facts.

  • Myth 1: Marijuana is harmless.

    Fact: Not so. Marijuana is more potent than ever and can lead to a host of significant physical, social, learning and behavioral problems at crucial times in the lives of young people. Sixty percent of teens currently in drug treatment have a primary marijuana diagnosis. Today's marijuana is more potent and its effects can be more intense.

  • Myth 2: You can't get addicted to marijuana.

    Fact: Despite popular belief, scientific research has shown that marijuana use can indeed lead to dependency and addiction.

  • Myth 3: Marijuana won't hurt you- it's just a plant.
    Fact: A significant body of research has identified the consequences of marijuana use, including changes to the brain, problems with learning, effects on mental health, and lung and respiratory damage. Marijuana leads to changes in the brain similar to those caused by cocaine, heroin and alcohol. Regular marijuana users often develop breathing problems, including chronic coughing and wheezing. For young users, marijuana can lead to increased anxiety, panic attacks, depression and other mental health problems. According to the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, adolescents age 12 to 17 who use marijuana weekly are nine times more likely than non-users to experiment with other illegal drugs or alcohol, five times more likely to steal and nearly four times more likely to engage in violence. Marijuana affects alertness, concentration, perception, coordination and reaction time.

  • Myth 4: Marijuana doesn't make you lose control. It just makes you mellow.
    Fact: Marijuana affects many of the skills required for safe driving and other tasks, and these effects can last up to four hours. Research has also shown a link between frequent marijuana use and increased violent behavior.
  • Myth 5: Marijuana isn't as popular among youth today as other newer drugs like Ecstasy.
    Fact: Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. Every day in 1999, more than 3,800 youth ages 12-17 tried marijuana for the first time. That's more than tobacco. The number of eighth graders who have used marijuana doubled between 1991 and 2001, from one in ten to one in five. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, young marijuana users often introduce other youth to the drug.
  • Myth 6: There's not much parents or anyone else can do to stop youth from experimenting.
    Fact: Parents are the most powerful influence on their children when it comes to drugs. Two-thirds of youth ages 13-17 say losing their parents' respect is one of the main reasons they don't smoke marijuana or use other drugs. Parents who perceive little risk associated with marijuana use have children with similar beliefs. Oft times, parents neglect to refer to marijuana use when talking to their children about drugs. They are more concerned about so-called "hard" drugs and the dramatic increase in use of club drugs. Many parents do not fully appreciate the specific dangers of marijuana today. In some cases, they draw on their own experiences with drug, 30 years ago when it wasn't nearly as potent.

"Make no mistake;" says Louis A. Cooper, M.D., president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, "marijuana is a harmful, addictive drug that is readily available to our children in communities across the country. Teenagers who are smoking marijuana today are using a drug more potent than what was available in the 1960s." There is an urgent need to actively challenge the myths that support marijuana use. Marijuana is much stronger and more addictive than it was 30 years ago. The average THC level rose from less than 1 percent in the late 1970s to more than 7 percent in 2001.

Street names and slang terms for marijuana include: aunt mary, bobby, boom, chronic, dope ganja, gangster, grass, hash, herb, kif, mary jane, pot, reefer, sinsemilla, skunk and weed.

Treatment is available for adolescents addicted to marijuana and other drugs. It is imperative that treatment is sought soon. Adolescence is a time of brain growth and learning and the harmful chemicals in marijuana are causing irreversible brain damage. For information and help, contact Parent Help, Inc.