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Marijuana poses greater risk to youth

This is the second installment of a two-part series on marijuana and its relationship to the Fallbrook community, specifically the community’s youth.

Schizophrenia, hallucinations and delusions are some of the risks posed to teenage marijuana smokers, a new study finds.

The Brain Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia studied 3,800 young people born between 1981 and 1984. At ages 14 and 21, researchers asked the subjects and their mothers about their mental health record and if they had smoked marijuana. 14% had smoked marijuana for 6 years or more.

“For those who started using cannabis when they were 14 or 15, they had about a two-fold risk of schizophrenia,” says psychiatrist John McGrath, the study’s lead researcher and professor at the Brain Institute.

Some feel that smoking marijuana as a teenager seems to “stunt” the normal process of emotional, psychological and mental development.

Dr. Christopher Del Riego with Fallbrook Hospital, believes, on an empirical basis, that the effect would be similar to a 25 or 30 year-old person behaving and thinking like an adolescent. They get 'trapped' in that teenage developmental stage.

But psychological problems are just the tip of the iceberg for long-term physical problems associated with smoking marijuana.

“My clinical opinion is that long term damage includes lung scarring and loss of elasticity [emphysema], cancers of various and dangerous sorts,” Dr. Del Riego says. “Smoking can also cause chronic hypoxemia [long-term decrease in tissue oxygen], which causes blood vessels in the lungs to constrict and impairs function of the heart, eventually leading to failure.”

Effective June 19, 2009 marijuana smoke was added to a long list of chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer. The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) of the California Environmental Protection Agency added pot to the Proposition 65 list after the Carcinogen Identification Committee (CIC) of the OEHHA Science Advisory Board “determined that marijuana smoke was clearly shown, through scientifically valid testing according to generally accepted principles, to cause cancer.” Weed smoke joins other well-known carcinogens like nicotine and tobacco smoke.

But smoking weed might be even worse than smoking tobacco. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, “marijuana smoke contains more than 400 chemicals, including most of the harmful substances found in tobacco smoke.” Smoking one joint fills the lungs with four times more tar than a tobacco cigarette. The National Institute of Health also says, “Someone who smokes five joints per week may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes every day.”

“Any type of smoking is extremely deleterious to health, especially that of the lungs,” says Dr. Del Riego.

What’s even more astonishing is that marijuana is addictive (U.S. DEA). Admission to drug treatment in 2008 for marijuana addiction comprised 17.6% of all admissions in California (SAMHSA). Of those admitted for marijuana addiction treatment, 46.4% were between the ages of 12 to17. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical in pot that gives the user the “high.” THC levels have steadily increased as growers attempt to make more potent weed. According to the Potency Monitoring Project at the University of Mississippi, which has been monitoring pot seized by the DEA for over 30 years, the average THC content of marijuana rose from 3.71% in 1985 to 10.1% in 2008.

The short-term effects of smoking marijuana include, “memory impairment, poor judgment and insight, decreased energy levels and increased susceptibility to upper respiratory infections, among others,” says Dr. Del Riego. “The most common emergency room visit related to marijuana seems to be panic attacks due to rapid over-smoking and the palpitations/hallucinations which ensue.”

The third and final installment of this series will examine how and from where Fallbrook acquires its marijuana.

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