Is this ever you?:
It’s after school and you've got time on your hands. Maybe your parents are at work or are not around as much with you during the day on the weekends. You need to relax. Why not? It’s fun. Makes you feel good. Something you can do with your friends. Easier to get than booze.
OK, let's talk about what the risks are. We'll break down the risks in this way:
- what happens now, including pot and driving
- what happens later after long term use, including how it changes brain growth as a teen
- is it addictive?
- other risks
Ready? Here we go:
What happens when you smoke now –
- You become uncoordinated – no sports superstar maneuvers for you today. You try to sink that shot – but your hand / eye coordination is off. Total airball. Going for that layout in Ultimate – no dice – didn’t judge very well exactly where that disc was going. Keep screwing up your lacrosse passes. No batter of the year for you if you keep missing those pitches.
- Your memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be – no honor roll for you. Maybe not even passing those tests. Cannot make new memories and cannot recall the old ones when you need to. Not the best recipe for academic success. Smoking to relax from all the school stress with SATs, exams, pressure from parents? Will totally backfire and screw up your GPA and test performance. Sorry, but it’s the truth.
- Judgment and perception are off – so you take all kinds of risks – risky sex, driving while impaired – or getting in the car with someone impaired from pot or alcohol or something else.
- Hard. To. Motivate. To. Do…… anything. Nuff said.
- Hack hack wheeze wheeze. Lung risks basically the same as smoking tobacco – more chest colds, bronchitis, coughing. You may think you smoke fewer joints than cigs, but usually you hold the smoke in longer and breathe it in deeper – so that kind of makes up for it.
- Causes anxiety and increased heart rate. That doesn’t feel good. Can even cause panic attacks in some people.
- Barf. Hurl. You get the idea. Believe it or not, people that smoke most days often get something called Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome, which is medical talk for smoking a lot can make you vomit a lot. Wonder if this is what's happening to you? A classic sign is that you feel better with a hot shower.
- Driving..... Let’s digress and talk about driving and pot. Soooooo, the message for not driving drunk is pretty well received by teens like yourselves…. But apparently we are not doing such a good job talking about pot use and impaired driving. Any chemical substance that changes your nervous system function will affect complex tasks like driving. Driving seems pretty straightforward, but every second you are making judgments and decisions…. How fast am I going? Can I make that light? How sharp do I need to turn right? Will I make that left turn before that car comes thru the intersection? Wow, that jerk just cut me off – better step on the brakes and make sure I don’t hit them…. Get the idea? Now insert chemical – for today’s discussion, weed. Now you coordination, and memory, and judgment are all messed up. See the problem? Stats you want? Numbers? OK – the Numbers are:
- Driving while stoned / high / whatever DOUBLES your risk of a car accident.
- About 10 percent of people that were killed or injured in car accidents (a measure of how bad the accidents are) had THC (the chemical in pot) found in their system.
- 20 percent of teens have driven after smoking pot. That number shocked me.
- Especially with this next number – a THIRD of teens didn’t think that smoking pot affected your driving – even though they knew alcohol did. So let me do my part to correct that myth.
You've been smoking for a long time – what happens later?
- Lowers your IQ – seriously – brain development is still a very active process through the teen years and early 20s (more on that later) – and there is a lot of data that heavy or long term pot smoking in these years permanently affects your brain development – with lower IQ later on for the rest of your life.
- There is less achievement - in school – in your career – in your interests.
- Can trigger mental illness – there may be an effect on mood regulation and depression – but that research is ongoing – sometimes kids with depression try to use drugs to make themselves feel better. But there is pretty good data out there that if you are at risk for serious mental illness, like schizophrenia, weed can cause hallucinations and delusions (mis-beliefs) that can really affect how you see and function in reality.
- Permanent lung problems since the smoke is just as bad as tobacco smoke – and can cause emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Interested in more on brain development?
Don’t yawn – this is a pretty simplistic explanation, but helps explain why chemicals affect teens differently than adults with fully grown (though not always fully used) brains… A whole bunch of things are happening in your brain when you’re a teen – extra nerve connections (synapses) are trimmed so that nerve message transmission is faster and more efficient (what helps you think, remember, react, solve problems, etc). There is also increased myelination of nerves – this is like insulation around a nerve that also helps the speed of message transmission. Parts of the brain develop at different times, and that development must happen in order. This is eventually what allows for “cognitive control” of your different brain functions. Blah blah blah – you bored? OK, so the interesting part here (focusing on pot – since alcohol messes this stuff up too) is where weed screws up that biological process….. Pot in particular seems to mess up this pruning or trimming process so you may be left with extra useless nerve connections that slow everything up. And again, because the different areas of brain develop at different times, mood regulation is affected. And risk taking is increased. Let me know if you want more of this stuff – just trying to make sure you understand that as a teen, taking in chemicals that affect your brain DOES permanently impact how your brain grows since it is such an active time.
OK, so you think you’ll just get clean for a week before finals or SATs or whatever…. Well, bummer there – turns out that in regular pot smoking kids that were studied a MONTH after they stopped smoking STILL did worse on a whole host of brain tests that look at different brain functions such as learning and memory. The effects linger…..
Hey, but the good news is that Mary Jane isn’t addictive, right? Well, WRONG! Here’s the straight dope (no pun intended….)
- 10 - 15% of teens that use pot will get addicted.
- You are more at risk the earlier you start using.
- You are at more risk if there is a family history of any type of addiction.
- You are at risk if you use most days.
- There are symptoms when you quit – called withdrawal symptoms.
But wait, there's more!
Now I hear a lot about parents smoking pot with their kids. Unfortunately - and your parents may not be aware of this – pot today is NOT the same as pot from their college days. It is more potent – meaning a lot more THC in the same amount of weed. It may be laced with other stuff. Pot is not regulated like alcohol or tobacco or other things – so there is no way to know what else may be travelling in your joint. It can be laced with really dangerous stuff, like PCP – and you may never know. There are a whole host of other things, like lead, that have been found in marijuana as well.
Try out this knowledge test – short and sweet – see what you know! HERE.