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Latimer: Marijuana use among teenagers more than a casual habit
For decades now the use of marijuana has been a rampant part of the teenage experience for many.
It’s not news to hear that adolescents are experimenting with substances such as cannabis and alcohol during those intense years of self-discovery and drive for independence.
However, what is troubling is the number of teenagers who are doing more than simply experimenting.
It seems a growing number are developing strong habits that will affect not only their immediate futures but even their lifelong health.
A study last year completed by the National Institute of Health in the U.S. surveyed more than 46,000 teenagers in Grades 8, 10 and 12 and found that daily marijuana use had increased in all groups since 2007 —among high school seniors, one in 16 reported using the drug daily or near-daily.
This increase came after five years of consistent decline in marijuana use by teenagers in the U.S.
Unfortunately, regular cannabis use is particularly bad for teenage brains that are still developing.
One Canadian study suggested daily marijuana use by teens can cause depression, anxiety and irreversible effects on the brain by lowering serotonin levels and raising norepinephrine levels—neurotransmitters known to affect mood and susceptibility to long-term stress.
Other studies have found frequent use by those whose brains are still developing can cause long term damage to learning and memory as well as affecting judgment and motor skills.
Very recent data is difficult to find for Canada, but according to statistics from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, a quarter of high school students report having used marijuana in the past year with the numbers ranging from three per cent of Grade 7 students and 46 per cent of Grade 12 students.
Of those, 12 per cent said they use the drug every day.
These numbers date back to 2007 and it would be interesting to see if a similar increase has occurred in our own country since then.
Although it is not popular to write about, cannabis use is not good for you physically or mentally.
Marijuana smoke contains more tar than cigarettes and also includes a cocktail of more than 400 other chemicals by inhaling deeply and holding the smoke inside the lungs longer than smokers, those smoking marijuana increase its negative impact on the lungs.
I have also talked in the past about some of the ways in which marijuana can impact negatively on existing psychiatric disorders.
Many people believe smoking marijuana will relax them and ease anxiety or depression, but in fact it tends to worsen these conditions.
It is also particularly unhelpful in ADHD even though people here also often use it to self-medicate.
It may be a naturally occurring plant, but marijuana should not be treated as an all-purpose natural healing agent and it is increasingly obvious it causes many more negative effects than positive.
I encourage young people to learn the facts about this and other substances—express your independence in a more creative and healthy way.
Paul Latimer is a psychiatrist and president of Okanagan Clinical Trials.