Letter to the Editor: Modern Day Marijuana 101 - A Primer for Parents

Needham Public Health Department sends a primer for parents on today's marijuana for what they may need to know about the drug.

The following was sent by the Needham Public Health Department


Cathy Toran, M.Ed., Needham Public Health Department

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. It is the number one drug of choice of youth who are in treatment for substance abuse, as reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). According to the Metrowest Adolescent Health Survey data, youth use rates in Needham have risen since Massachusetts voted to decriminalize marijuana in 2008. Our state recently voted to approve marijuana for use as medicine. This may cause teens to perceive it as less harmful and could have similar effects on increasing use rates. Young people in Needham may have more questions around using marijuana given the current climate.

The main active chemical in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (commonly called THC). THC acts upon specific sites in the brain, known as cannabinoid receptors, and the highest density of cannabinoid receptors are found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentrating, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. The level of THC that it contains determines the potency of marijuana.

Parents should know that today’s marijuana is far more potent than the marijuana that was available when they were younger. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the potency of marijuana (measured by the THC content) has more than tripled over the last 15 years, from 3% to more than 11%. And it doesn’t appear to be easy for some people to stop using marijuana once they start: approximately 9% (1 in 11) of marijuana users become dependent, according to NIDA, and those who begin using in their teens have a 1 in 6 chance of dependence. Rates of teen marijuana use in Massachusetts are 30% higher than the average for the nation, as reported by the Center for Disease Control.

Marijuana use in the teenage years may have irreversible cognitive effects: a widely-publicized and recently-published study followed over 1,000 individuals from the time they were 13 years old until the time that they were 38, and found that teens who smoked marijuana demonstrated up to an 8-point IQ drop in early adulthood, compared to teens that did not smoke (Mieir, Madeline., et al (2012). Marijuana smoke contains 50% to 70% more carcinogens than tobacco smoke, contributing to the risk of cancer of the lungs, mouth and tongue.
For more information about marijuana and resources for counseling and treatment please visit our website at www.needhamma.gov/substanceabuse


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