Marijuana (pot) is the most commonly used illicit drug the United States. As of 2010, 17.4 million or 16.9 percent of Americans were considered to be regular marijuana users. In recent years pot has lost its hype for being a potent drug. Because pot is viewed by many teens as being harmless, the usage among this age group has soared sky-high. The percentage of youth users, aged 12 to 17, increased from 6.7 percent in 2007 to 7.4 percent in 2010. There have been many studies that show the truth about how potent cannabis really is. Several of these studies show that if marijuana is used heavily starting in the adolescence years that the intelligence and mental well-being of the user will decrease substantially.
Marijuana contains about 60 different mind-altering chemicals known as cannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the most active and prominent chemical within pot, acts upon cannabinoid receptors, specific molecular targets on brain cells. These receptors are normally activated by chemicals that are similar to THC called endocannabinoids, “naturally occurring (chemicals) in the body (that) are part of a neural communication network (the endocannabinoid system) that plays an important role in normal brain development and function,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The majority of cannabinoid receptors are found within the “parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement.” The use of marijuana distorts perception, impairs coordination, creates difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupts learning and memory capabilities.
Excessive use of marijuana is affiliated with persistent declination in neurocognitive performance even after 28 days of not using. A recent study shows that people who began using in the adolescent years of their lives had a profound deficit in connections between brain areas responsible for learning and memory. In the state of Washington, 23 percent of students who did not report marijuana use received C’s, D’s, and F’s on their average report cards, while the percentage of these low grades for users was substantially higher, at an alarming 51 percent. Another study showed that people who began abusing marijuana as teens lost as much as eight IQ points from the ages of 13-38, and that adults did not regain the lost cognitive abilities. Not only has marijuana been proven to be detrimental to the intelligence of the user, but also to the well-being of his or her mental health.
Many studies have shown a correlation between chronic use and mental illness. High doses of the drug can cause temporary psychotic reactions involving hallucinations and paranoia. Results from seven different studies showed an increased risk of psychosis for users of marijuana by 40 percent. There was also a dose response effect where the risk of psychotic symptoms was increased approximately 50 percent to 200 percent in those who used cannabis frequently compared with nonusers. A Swedish study showed that cannabis use by age 18 led to a sixfold increase in the risk of schizophrenia later in life. Marijuana use has also been associated with other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among adolescents. The weekly use of marijuana doubles the risk of developing depression and triples the incidence of suicidal thoughts among teens.
Marijuana has lost the respect of being a dangerous substance, when the reality is that it is more toxic today than ever before. The long-term effects of cannabis use among teens are frightening, with lifelong consequences. By pushing for the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, America is pushing for a less intelligent society with a greater percentage of mental illness.
Tyler Meredith is a senior at Roseburg High School who researched the cause and effect of marijuana use for an Advanced Placement English class paper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.