Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Not-So-Harmless Cannabis Story

How many times have you heard something like this: "Smoking a joint is just a harmless way to relax, a bit like having a martini"? Mostly I hear this from young adults and teenagers. It is critical that we (parents and teachers) give our teens correct information about drug use, especially when its use has graduated into harmless banality. It's a fact; my students really don't believe that smoking a joint is bad for them. Here's what I hear them say: 1- it's better than smoking a cigarette, 2- it's the same as having a martini or a glass of wine, 3- it has no adverse effects on the brain, and finally, 4- my parents smoked and they're OK! The point of this post is not to prepare a full frontal attack on the debate surrounding marijuana use but simply to pass on the latest information out of McGill University. (Points 1 and 4 should be the subject of a future separate post.)

From Science Daily, I learned that young Canadians (among the highest cannabis users world-wide) are courting mood and other emotional disorders because of daily marijuana consumption. Teens report using marijuana to deal with stress and anxiety except that the very substance they use to self-medicate is creating another problem; depression. A study done by Dr. Gobbi and published in the Neurobiology of Disease showed that" daily consumption of cannabis in teens can cause depression and anxiety, and have an irreversible long-term effect on the brain." It seems that the serotonin and norepinephrine levels are depressed in regular marijuana smokers. These two neurotransmitters are partly responsible for stabilizing moods and in the case of serotonin, lifting our moods. In other words, smoking a joint might help them feel relaxed but it is actually depressing them by altering important levels of neurotransmitters responsible for well being. (When my students in psychology study the brain, I make sure that they know how to self-regulate serotonin levels in natural ways such as exercise.)
The same study also reported that the teenage brain (still maturing until the early twenties)is more suspectible to damage from cannabis than the adult brain.

Both of these results are important information to relay to our children and students. Depression and anxiety is a serious issue for teens. These years can be difficult ones, even for the most well adjusted teenager. When I think of students who have learning difficulties, who are excluded from the 'popular' groups, who are coping with their parents' marital stress, who are trying to find their own path in life AND get the grades, I am reminded of my 'raison d’ĂȘtre' as a teacher: help them find their own inner resources to get through the challenging times in life.
I don't think that sharing this recent information with any of my students who have already adopted the habit of regular marijuana smoking will make any significant immediate difference. But I do think that it's part of my very important duty to make sure they hear it from me, often, clearly and honestly. I'd encourage my readers to read the study for themselves and teach the teens in their lives the 'real dope' about their beloved not-so-harmless drug.

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