Marijuana Use among Teenagers: Effects and Possible Solutions

Introduction

Marijuana is a greenish-gray mixture of the dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of Cannabis sativa. Marijuana is used as a drug. Most marijuana users smoke it in hand-rolled cigarettes called joints, while some smokers use pipes, or water pipes called bongs. Marijuana cigars or blunts are also made available by marijuana vendors/peddlers (NIDA 1). According to the NIDA (2012) report, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drugs in the United States of America (2).

In many countries, marijuana is illegal. However, its use tends to counteract its illegal status with a rising trend of usage among teenagers. According to Nora D. Volkow, the Director of NIDA, by the time they graduate from school, about 46 percent of the teenagers will have tried marijuana. According to her, the use of drugs among teenagers has dropped significantly in the past decade to a prevalence of about 15 percent in 2011. However, this decline has stalled over the past several years. Nora acknowledges that the use of marijuana can produce adverse physical, mental, emotional and behavioral effects and that it can impair short-term memory and judgment, and distort perception. The director also acknowledges that marijuana affects the brain system that are still maturing through young-adulthood and its use by teenagers, in particular, may have detrimental effect on their development (NIDA para. 1- 2).

This paper analyzes five peer-reviewed academic articles, from reputable sources, with the view of finding out the facts about marijuana and how these facts can be utilized in finding an amicable solution to the bhang-smoking problem. These articles are: “Prevalence of Marijuana Use Disorders in the United States – 1991-1992 and 2001-2002,” by Compton, Wilson et al., “Psychosocial Correlates of Marijuana Use and Problem Drinking in a National Sample of Adolescents” by Jesser Richard et al., “Association Between Marijuana Exposure and Pulmonary Function Over 20 Years” by Pletcher, Mark J. et al., “Comparison of Extended Versus Brief Treatments for Marijuana Use,” by Stephens, Robert S. and “Dose-related Neurocognitive Effects of Marijuana Use” by Bolla, KI.

The Scope of Marijuana Use in the U.S.A.

Compton et al.’s “Prevalence of Marijuana Use Disorders in the United States – 1991-1992 and 2001-2002” examines the changes in how often marijuana is used and abused in two national surveys: the 1991-1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey and the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (2114). According to their research, marijuana dependency among adults in the United States of America stands at four percent. Marijuana use disorders among those who are dependent on it have increased substantially in the intervening year. This is strongly attributed to the potential strengthening and increased potency of the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or the active ingredient in marijuana (2121).

According to Compton et al., the factors contributing to the addiction potential are operating to produce the increase in prevalence in marijuana abuse or dependency (2121). In essence, as the years have progressed there has been a substantial addictive nature of marijuana; a higher level of THC in the current marijuana product is making the product more likely to cause addiction. With this dependence comes a great number of marijuana use disorders, such as “increased tolerance, compulsive use, impaired control, and continued use despite physical and psychological problems caused or exacerbated by use” (2115). Demographic comparisons of marijuana users are also changing in very fundamental ways; “the rates of marijuana use disorders did not increase among white young adults (ages 18-29 years), but did increase among young adult black men and women and among young adult Hispanic men” (2120).

The youthfulness of this article (as it was published in 2004) makes its relevance more tenable hence its information is crucial in pinpointing the key target areas with respect to dealing with the menace of marijuana abuse in the U.S.

The Effects of Marijuana on Pulmonary Function

“Association between Marijuana Exposure and Pulmonary Function over 20 Years” by Pletcher et al. explores the possibility that marijuana smoke has the same kinds of adverse effects on pulmonary function. Since tobacco smoke has been found to cause lung damage with severe clinical consequences (like lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and more), the researchers attempted to determine whether or not marijuana smoke has the same effect, as it “contains many of the same constituents as tobacco smoke” (173). The researchers performed a longitudinal study on over 5000 men and women in major cities who smoke marijuana, testing their pulmonary function based on their level of exposure to marijuana as compared to tobacco. According to the results, marijuana use was not linearly linked to adverse pulmonary function, meaning there was little to no correlation between smoking marijuana and acquiring lung cancer or diminished pulmonary health.

This study provides a concrete, well-studied and comprehensive examination at one of the primary sticking points for marijuana use. Does it cause harm in the same way that cigarette smoking does? In exploring this notion, the researchers support the prevailing literature on the subject, noting that “analyses of pulmonary function and lung disease have failed to detect clear adverse effects of marijuana use on pulmonary function” (174). By making their study span 20 years, they hope to circumvent the normal problem in these examinations, which is that short-term effects might mask cumulative lung damage that might occur from marijuana smoking. The nonlinear relationship that was found between pulmonary function and marijuana use supports the notion that it does not cause the same type of pulmonary effects that tobacco does. While the researchers did not determine whether or not heavy marijuana use would lead to adverse pulmonary function, “our findings do suggest an accelerated decline in pulmonary function with heavy use and a resulting need for caution and moderation when marijuana use is considered” (181). At the same time, this heavy amount of use was so rare as to be insignificant, as the vast majority of the sample used marijuana on only a low to moderate basis.

The Relationship between Marijuana Use and Psychosocial Factors

In “Psychosocial Correlates of Marijuana Use and Problem Drinking in a National Sample of Adolescents,” Jessor et al. examine the personality, social and behavioral factors that lead adolescents to engage in illicit drug use, particularly problem drinking and marijuana use. A national sample study was used on more than 10,000 high school students to determine what demographics and scenarios are conducive to higher rates of marijuana use. According to the results, adolescents are more likely to try marijuana when they place a greater value on independence than their school work, when they have lower expectations for academic achievement, and a lower prevalence for religious faith (604).

While this is an older study (1980), it also demonstrates the substantial shift in behaviors that are correlated with marijuana use exploring the psychosocial elements of adolescents who engage in these activities can help us understand their motivations for trying it. According to Jessor et al., primary prevention, intervention, or health promotion approaches directed at adolescents need to consider the relation between these behaviors – their possible syndrome character – rather than trying to deal with them as if they were isolated, or unique, or separate kinds of action (612).

Treatment Options and the Hurdle Ahead

In “Comparison of Extended Versus Brief Treatments for Marijuana Use” Stephens, Roffman and Curtin evaluate the effectiveness of marijuana treatment strategies for those who wish to lower their dependency on marijuana use. In their study, long term cognitive-behavioral group treatments and other types of therapy were used on both a brief and an extended basis for those attempting to recover from marijuana addiction. The short term and long term methods of treatment (the group therapy and a two-session motivational interview) were found to have comparable levels of treatment for marijuana use, while the third option (a four month delayed treatment control program) had substantially less effectiveness. Either way, these types of programs were shown to have significant positive effects on symptoms of marijuana dependence, and lessened withdrawals at an increasing rate during each follow-up (898).

Roffman and Curtin discuss the proper way to treat those who are addicted to marijuana. According to these two “researchers have identified impairments in the attentional and executive functioning of heavy marijuana users that do not show up in more global estimates of intelligence…chronic, heavy marijuana users report impairments of memory, concentration, motivation, self-esteem, interpersonal relationships, health, employment, or finances related to their marijuana use” (899). To that end, interventions must be made that could effectively help individuals who wish to lessen their dependency on marijuana accomplish those goals; the researchers argue that both long and short term interventions seem to be properly effective. However, delayed control treatments are seen to not be as effective, because “assignment to the DTC condition also may have been perceived as permission to continue using marijuana” and as such their commitment to lessening dependency was less than those in the other treatment types (905). Up to this juncture, is marijuana’s usage effect on the individual marijuana smoker really curable? What is the real extent of marijuana as manifested even after one quits smoking?

A research in “Dose-related Neurocognitive Effects of Marijuana Use” by Bolla et al. (a 2002 publication) examines the science behind what goes on in your brain when you use marijuana. Neurocognitive tests were administered to heavy marijuana abusers who were asked to go without the drug for 28 days, to measure what actually happens in their nervous systems depending on how heavy their marijuana use was. After being abstinent for nearly a month, the participants were evaluated in terms of their neurocognitive abilities and mental acuity. According to the results, heavy marijuana use can be closely correlated to significant deficits in neurocognitive performance, as even after 28 days of abstinence, users were left wanting in terms of their mental acuity. These deficits included slower reaction times, slower executive cognitive functioning, and more, indicating that heavy marijuana use does have a significantly negative effect on the brain even after quitting. Bolla et al. are still unsure as to whether these effects would increase or decrease given continued abstinence.

According to Bolla et al., the actual effects of marijuana on the human mind are outlined. “The neurocognitive functions most negatively affected were memory, executive function, and manual dexterity” which are all closely related to the prefrontal cortex, cerebellum and hippocampus, are all parts of the brain that are adversely affected through heavy marijuana use (1341). Bolla et al.also demonstrate that for marijuana smokers even after quitting, the effects of marijuana on the brain do not evaporate overnight. This however does not negate the significance of quitting marijuana smoking. According to Bolla et al., scientists have found that a marijuana smoker consuming 10 joints a day for 10 years would probably show greater neurocognitive effects than marijuana user smoking one joint per day for 10 years (1340).

Conclusion

The marijuana smoking phenomenon in the country is worrying, especially among teenagers, and calls for attention from relevant authorities. According to Crompton et al., as a result of two studies: the 1991-1992 and the 2001-2002 studies, the increase in marijuana addiction lies in the potential change in potency of the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or the active ingredient in marijuana. Compton et al. also find that the trend of marijuana use among African American and Hispanic teenagers was on rise while that among white populations it was not.

Pletcher et al.bring our attention to the effects of marijuana on the pulmonary functions. According to the authors, in spite of the research having not demonstrated the effects of marijuana on pulmonary functions, their studies actually do by decelerating pulmonary functioning. This knowledge sheds more light on the detrimental effects of marijuana on the smokers, perhaps to alert them so that they can quit.

The research by Jessor et al. states that marijuana use among teenagers is linked to psychosocial phenomenon. In this regard teenagers, who are mostly idle, hopeless, ambitionless, and less religious find themselves consuming marijuana. In addition, the research shows that marijuana is used by deviant teenagers to aid them.

Two approaches of marijuana treatment are hereby suggested by extended and brief treatment. Both are found to be effective. The two approaches involve withdrawimg from smoking and other therapies that would help the addicted reduce their reliability on the drug. However, studies by Bolla et al on the available knowledge show that the effects of heavy marijuana do not evaporate overnight.

The good news is that the study was done for 28 days. More research is needed to find out if neuropsychological effects of marijuana are reversible and how so can this can help those who want to quit smoking are assured of reversibility of their addiction.

Nonetheless much attention by anti-narcotic agencies, parents, guardians and NGOs should be put on encouraging abstinence from the use of marijuana. This could be done by coming up with programs that keep the teenagers busy. Guiding and counseling should also be employed to fight this menace.

Works Cited

Bolla, K.I., Brown, K., Eldreth, D., Tate, K. and J. L. Cadet.”Dose-related Neurocognitive Effects of Marijuana Use.” Neurology, 59 (2002)1337-1343. Print.

Compton, Wilson M., Grant, Bridget F., Colliver, James D., Glantz, Meyer D., and Frederick S. Stinson.”Prevalence of Marijuana Use Disorders in the United States – 1991-1992 and 2001-2002.” Journal of American Medical Association, 291.17(2004): 2114-2121, Print.

Jessor, Richard, Chase, James A., and John E. Donovan.”Psychosocial Correlates of Marijuana Use and Problem Drinking in a National Sample of Adolescents.” ALPH, 70. 6(1980): 604-613. 1980. Print.

National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). Marijuana Abuse, 2002. Accessed October 20, 2012 <http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana-abuse&gt;

Pletcher, Mark J., Vittinghoff, Eric, Kalhan, Ravi, Richman, Joshua et al. “Association Between Marijuana Exposure and Pulmonary Function Over 20 Years.” Journal of American Medical Association, 307.2(2012): 173-181. Print.

Stephens, Robert S., Roffman, Roger A., and Lisa Curtin.”Comparison of Extended Versus Brief Treatments for Marijuana Use.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(2000): 898-908. Print.

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