This article was written by teen reporters from The Mash, a weekly publication distributed to Chicagoland high schools.
By Maggie Roache, Nazareth Academy
and Brianna Yang, Latin
There’s no doubt about it—pot is a hot topic. Whether it’s a conversation about legalization laws or the celebrities who use it, the drug seems to be more popular than ever.
But there’s one thing most supporters and critics can agree on: Teens shouldn’t be using it. Several new studies are putting more proof behind this claim.
The Lancet Psychiatry reported that teens who smoke marijuana daily are 60 percent less likely to graduate high school or college than those who never use—and seven times more likely to attempt suicide.
It’s not just daily use. According to the researchers behind the study, teens who used cannabis monthly were also at risk of underachievement: By the age of 25, they were 38 percent less likely to graduate high school or earn a college degree, two and a half times more likely to attempt suicide, four times more likely to be dependent on cannabis and almost three times more likely to have used other illicit drugs.
“This is particularly concerning as cannabis use at lower levels is much more common among teens than daily use,” said Dr. Edmund Silins, co-author of this study and researcher at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. “So there are relatively large numbers of teens using cannabis relatively infrequently, for example monthly or weekly. The effects for this group were still notable.”
Among Chicago teens, marijuana continues to be a fairly accessible drug.
“It seems cool to people,” said Latin junior Chris Maurice when asked why he believes teens are drawn to pot. “Kids see people that smoke weed who seem to be pretty happy with their lives.”
Along with the cool factor, many teens simply don’t think of weed as a dangerous drug. A separate 2013 study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (Monitoring the Future) found that nearly 60 percent of high school seniors didn’t view regular marijuana use as harmful. The study also found that 6.5 percent of seniors smoked marijuana daily.
Some students believe research findings like these will serve as a reality check to teens.
“Some think that (marijuana) isn’t that dangerous because it doesn’t have the same repercussions that alcohol does … or other more intensely affecting drugs like heroin, and they think that cannabis is like a lighter, not as dangerous thing,” Nazareth sophomore Allison Kufta said. “I think if people were more aware of this, they would care more about their future and their awareness of this contemporary world issue and be smarter.”
SKEPTICS AND BELIEVERS
Still, others are skeptical about the new findings.
“I don’t know if I quite believe the graduating high school statistic,” Whitney Young junior Hannah Chow said about the study published in The Lancet Psychiatry. “It seems just a little too high. Most of (the people I know who use marijuana) are bright, intelligent people who smoke mostly to relieve the stress of high school.”
Sarah Stollenwerk, a substance abuse counselor at The Youth Center at Northwest Community Hospital, said that most marijuana addiction and abuse cases she sees started as social use that got out of control.
“It could’ve been family issues, it could’ve been underlying mental health issues. But for almost all of them it started as social,” she explained. “And for some of them it got really bad really fast, and for some of them it took a little bit longer.”
HEAD START, LOW MARKS
Stollenwerk said there’s another facet of the Lancet study that hit home with her experience counseling teens.
“What I thought really highlighted a lot of what we see in the field is that the earlier kids start, the more likely that they will have problems with substances,” she said. “If someone is starting earlier in their life, they may not have the skills, the abilities to be able to avoid falling into habits and patterns that are likely to be problematic.
“In society, especially with teenagers, (marijuana) is not thought of as a problematic substance, but it can be as destructive as other drugs in terms of how it affects overall life goals and general functioning and things of that nature.”
Picking up the drug earlier in life seems easier than ever. According to the Monitoring the Future study, 39 percent of eighth graders said it would be fairly easy or very easy to get weed.
Latin junior Miles Alsberry said he believes that middle school students’ access to marijuana is directly influenced by high school usage.
“Younger students get weed from some of the older students,” he explained. “If not directly by the older students, they’ll be referred to someone outside of school. Kids would be doing (marijuana) as early as middle school if they knew people in upper school that use it.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Dr. Silins said the findings of The Lancet Psychiatry study speak loud and clear: “The message to teens is that we would encourage them not to use cannabis or at the very least to delay use. It’s a particularly important message because the developing adolescent brain is very susceptible to the harmful effects of cannabis.”
While Silins said he knows that change won’t happen overnight, he still hopes that his research can inform the public about the harmful effects of marijuana and aid in the debate over cannabis legislation.
“Peoples’ views and opinions about cannabis are generally not easily changed. Change does happen, but it takes time,” Silins said. “To change peoples’ opinions will take much more than a single study.”
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HELP IS A CALL AWAY
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, call the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator at 1-800-662-HELP or visit findtreatment.samhsa.gov.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide or self-harm, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Teens who smoke marijuana daily are …
60% less likely to complete high school than those who never use.
60% less likely to graduate college.
18 times more likely to become dependent on marijuana.
8 times more likely to use other illegal drugs in the future.
7 times more likely to attempt suicide.
Source: The Lancet Psychiatry