Contributed by DaShe’ Frieson-McMillian, MPH, CTTS
After many years of public health education concerning the dangers of cigarette use, teenagers’ cigarette smoking is declining, but their marijuana usage has not changed much. Marijuana is one of the most common drugs abused among teenagers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over one-third of Georgia teenagers have used marijuana. Many teens have misconceptions about the effects of marijuana. They believe that marijuana is safer than alcohol or other drugs. As a Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist (CTTS), I have been afforded the opportunity to speak in many high schools about tobacco use and other drugs. The following are some of the common myths I hear regarding marijuana:
- “It is not addictive.”
- “It is harmless and herbal, and it won’t affect me long term.”
- “It’s not as harmful as smoking tobacco.”
- “It doesn’t affect my thinking or my grades.”
- “I concentrate better when I use marijuana, and it also relaxes me.”
- “Edibles are safer.”
- “It’s safe because it is used by doctors as medicine for cancers and other diseases.”
So where do these myths come from? The truth is, adolescents receive little education or information about marijuana. They don’t understand that the tobacco leaves in which a blunt (a hollowed out cigar) is rolled contains nicotine and many other harmful chemicals that can be found in cigarettes. They also don’t know that eating foods or drinking beverages such as cookies, brownies, and sodas that contain marijuana present a greater risk of poisoning. They just don’t have a clue.
Unlike adults, the teenage brain is actively developing, and it usually will not stop until the mid-20s. Adolescence is a period of time when many developmental changes are occurring. Using marijuana during this period may have many harmful effects on the developing brain. These negative effects include: having trouble thinking and solving problems, difficulty maintaining attention, impaired coordination and problems with memory and learning. Marijuana can also cause negative physical effects including: respiratory issues, elevated heart rate and blood pressure and poor lung health.
Teens that use marijuana may also experience some effects in their school and social life. Teens may experience issues such as a decline in academic performance, problematic behaviors, increased risk of mental health issues and the onset of addiction. There are many signs of addiction to marijuana including: difficulty quitting, missing important activities with family and friends and continuing usage despite the issues it causes at home, school or work.
In summary, marijuana use in teens can lead to many long-term problems. It is very important to begin conversations about the risk of marijuana usage early and continue discussions over time. As public health professionals, it is imperative that we educate and debunk as many myths as we can.
DaShe’ Frieson-McMillian is the Community Health Manager with the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale County Health Departments. The Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale County Health Departments work to protect and improve the health of those who work, live and play in their community by monitoring and preventing disease; promoting health and well-being and preparing for disasters. For more information please visit the Health Department’s website at www.gnrhealth.com or call the Health Promotion Office at 770-339-4260.