The Perils of Recreational Marijuana

The Perils of Recreational Marijuana

Teddy Ganea, Contributing Writer

The student community has a pot problem. Last year, 11 percent of students reported using marijuana in the anonymous Substance Abuse Survey, an annual form that Ms. Mojica sends out for Health. This year, that number surged, more than tripling to 35.5 percent. Worryingly, even as weed use skyrockets, the school community dramatically underestimates the danger of marijuana. Marijuana’s extreme and inherent harm threatens students’ lives and livelihoods.

Whenever I’ve discussed marijuana with friends and classmates, I’m left dismayed at how poor an understanding the community has of the evils of marijuana. “Marijuana has no long-term side effects. It doesn’t harm your brain. It’s nowhere near as dangerous as tobacco.” A Record editor objected in one draft of this article, claiming that “there’s no way to be chemically addicted to pot,” even as I’d cited four scientific studies to the contrary. Many treat it as a benign indulgence, with temporary side effects no worse than caffeine’s jitters. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

To understand why, let me provide some background information on the inner workings of marijuana. When a student smokes marijuana, a cocktail of 140 chemicals invades the lungs and travels to the brain. There, marijuana overwhelms the endocannabinoid system, temporarily shutting it down and preventing different parts of the brain from communicating. As the National Institute of Drug Addiction explains, this process allows users to feel high, while also maiming their memory, sense of spacetime, capacity to problem-solve, and control of muscle movements. Unfortunately, for teenagers whose developing brains are fragile and rapidly-changing, these effects are permanent. It’s like stepping onto wet concrete – as the concrete dries, weed’s footprint remains, irreversibly etched into the pavement.

This damage takes multiple forms. Having neutered the brain’s internal communications, marijuana debilitates teenagers’ ability to learn, store, and apply information, affecting their intelligence. Persistent marijuana users on average lose six points of IQ; in other words, marijuana abuse damages intelligence as much as lead poisoning, as multiple studies from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and the American Psychological Association (APA) have found. In a school famed for its academic rigor and life of the mind, I’m surprised we don’t take this seriously. If over one third of students were drinking lead-poisoned water, we’d be outraged! Smoking marijuana is choosing a lifetime of lower intelligence, gaining ever-dwindling understanding and grades.

Moreover, according to the National Institute of Drug Addiction, marijuana causes terrible mental illnesses, inducing half of all psychosis and schizophrenia cases. Once summoned, these mental illnesses are chronic. In the past year, one small pediatric practice has already seen smoking weed trigger permanent schizophrenia in two teenagers. Per Ms. Mojica’s Substance Abuse Survey, relieving stress is one of the main reasons students use pot; it’s bitterly ironic that marijuana increases mental illnesses and the workload driving the stress in the first place.

 

Even worse, because marijuana makes the brain reliant on it to function, replacing the body’s natural cannabinoids, people often develop horrible withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit marijuana, locking them into a cycle of pot abuse. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Center for Biotechnology Information find, over 30 percent of all Americans who have ever — even once — used pot become addicted; by comparison, less than 7 percent of drinkers become alcohol addicts. Marijuana is staggeringly addictive, outstripping even tobacco’s addictiveness. This is a nationwide problem. In 2015, four million Americans were addicted to pot; just one year later, that figure grew to six million per the National Institute of Health. By the time many realize the perils of marijuana use, it could be too late.

As an additional side effect of permanently pulverizing the brain, marijuana promotes dangerous driving. By distorting sense of time, awareness of reality, and muscle control, marijuana use triples the likelihood of traffic crashes and doubles the likelihood of fatal crashes, according to a systematic review from Frontiers in Psychiatry. The same seniors who frequently use marijuana are often also student drivers, and drug use puts themselves, their friends (if they carpool), and drivers outside the community at unnecessary risk every day.

Our community’s lackadaisical approach towards this public health crisis may result in a calamity for Horace Mann users, both in the short-term and long-term. We pride ourselves on academic achievement and intellectual collaboration; marijuana, in afflicting mind after mind, will weaken “the life of the mind.” To combat the problem, we must start with properly educating ourselves. Increasing awareness of marijuana’s adverse effects will keep people away, and safe from, the drug. We can begin with frank discussions of drug use in health class. We can also expand learning on the effects of marijuana use into biology and anatomy, pairing it with lessons on neuroscience to enhance students’ safety. To protect one third of the student body from a toxin as perilous as lead and tobacco, we must take marijuana seriously.