Marijuana Use Has Declined Among Midland County Youth; Unfortunately, So Has Perception of Risk

Marijuana use among Midland’s youth population (12-18 years) has declined sharply in the past five years. Data from the Midland Youth Survey, conducted by The Legacy Center in 2016, indicate that 8% of our youth population used marijuana in the 30 days prior to the survey, compared to 16% in 2011 . Not only has 30-day use declined, but it is well below the national average of 14%. The chart below shows 30-day use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and prescription drugs, by grade level.

This is great news, but there is cause for some concern. According to the survey, only 68% of Midland County youth believe that regular marijuana use poses a moderate or great risk. As you can see in the figure below, perceived risk of marijuana is well below the perceived risk of alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs. A decline in perceived risk can be a leading indicator of increased use.

Perception of Risk

Potency

Today’s marijuana isn’t the pot of the 1960s, 70s or 80s. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. Old-school marijuana typically contained less than 10% THC, but recent testing of legal marijuana in Colorado found it contained an average THC level of 18.7%, with some retail pot containing 30% or more. The tests were conducted by Charas Scientific, one of eight labs certified by Colorado to do potency testing. The results were released in a March 2015 meeting of the American Chemical Society.

In addition, marijuana concentrate products like hash oil, butter, shatter, and vaporizer cartridges can reach potency levels of 90% THC. Even medical experts do not know what the health impacts of such high concentrated levels are, but we do know that much lower levels of THC can cause irreversible changes to the developing brain.

Few consumers have any idea that one small marijuana-infused chocolate caramel bite, which looks identical to a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, can contain up to 100 milligrams of THC. Edibles take longer to digest and to produce a high. Therefore, youth may consume more to feel the effects faster, leading to dangerous results. Higher THC levels also may mean a greater risk for addiction if users are regularly exposing themselves to higher doses.

Addiction

Marijuana can be addictive. Estimates from research suggest that about 9%, of users become addicted to marijuana; this number increases among those who start young (to about 17%, or 1 in 6) and among daily users (to 25–50%). Thus, many of the nearly 7 percent of high-school seniors who report smoking marijuana daily or almost daily are well on their way to addiction, if not already addicted, and may be functioning at a sub-optimal level in their schoolwork and in other areas of their lives.

The earlier marijuana use begins (age of first use), the higher the risk of addiction. Those who begin using marijuana in their teens have about a one in six chance of developing a marijuana addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Addiction, children and teens are six times more likely to be in treatment for marijuana than for all other illegal drugs combined.

Cognitive Effects

Marijuana use is associated with poor school performance. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that teens with an average grade of “D” or below were more than four times as likely to have used marijuana in the past year, than those with an average grade of “A.” The Monitoring the Future survey found that the more a student uses drugs, including marijuana, the lower their grades and the more likely they are to drop out of school.

Marijuana use negatively affects the developing teen brain. A study conducted by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the National Institute on Mental Health found that adolescents and young adults that are heavy marijuana users are more likely than non-users to have disrupted brain development. Researchers found abnormalities in areas of the brain that interconnect brain regions involved in memory, attention, decision-making, language and executive functioning skills. More information about the dangers of marijuana use can be found by visiting www.samhsa.gov.

Permanent IQ Loss

A study more than 30 years in the making found that smoking marijuana permanently lowers intelligence, or IQ . Frequent pot smokers (even those who had given up marijuana) tended to have deficits in memory, concentration, and overall IQ. The reduction in IQ for those who smoked pot heavily prior to age 18 was most pronounced: an average of eight points. An eight point reduction in IQ is enough to have a significant, negative impact upon a person’s life.

What’s significant about this research is that it was a longitudinal study: researchers followed and tested subjects from birth through to age 38, noting when and how frequently they picked up habits like drug use. The longitudinal research provided a baseline IQ score for all subjects, which revealed changes in IQ scores as they picked up new habits, such as smoking pot.
While the study didn’t measure the effects of marijuana upon teenagers’ emotional intelligence, it’s likely they are dire. Emotional intelligence (EQ) in teenagers lags behind their cognitive development. This explains why teenagers are so impulsive, emotional, and prone to risky behavior. Since teenagers’ EQ develops much later than their IQ, this area of the brain is even more susceptible to the negative influences of marijuana.