Having surfaced in the tumultuous 1960s, marijuana swiftly became a groundbreaking light narcotic, especially among teenagers. In the first decade of the 21st century, a growing interest to marijuana has not subsided, only intensified. Several countries in Europe and some U.S. states allowed legal use of marijuana for medical purposes. And yet, together with the powerful call for legalization of marijuana, there is a growing concern over its detrimental effects on the health and well-being of people, and teenagers in particular. Although proponents of the legal use of marijuana relate to its non-addictive and even therapeutic nature, the opposition is unanimous in that this drug is addictive and harmful for teens and cannot be used in medicine. It should be stated that, indeed, the potential physical and mental health issues arising from marijuana use by far outweigh its scanty benefits.
Marijuana, having originated in ancient China, is currently the most used light drug in the world. It is a green, brown, or gray mixture of dried and shredded stems and leaves of the plant called Cannabis sativa. The common “street” names for marijuana are pot, herb, weed, and chronic, which relate to the different types and strength of the drug. Cannabis carries over 400 chemical substances, with the main being delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), known for its psychoactive influences on brain activity. Depending on the fraction of THC in the cannabis leaves, the intensity of marijuana effects on the human body can vary. The method of drug delivery in the body depends on the content and combination of nicotine and other psychoactive components. Marijuana is typically consumed in a pipe, bowl, joint, and blunt or boiled as tea. Marijuana’s smoke has a pronounced sweet and sour smell (NIDA). When inhaled or digested, the chemicals from Marijuana enter the bloodstream and reach the brain within seconds, making its impact almost instantaneous.
People who support legalization of marijuana typically bring forth three arguments in relation to teenagers. First, marijuana carries some medicinal attributes, which may help in certain bodily ailments and mental disorders. Second, consuming marijuana does not have serious health and behavioral consequences for teenagers and is basically harmless to them. And third, marijuana cannot even qualify as a drug because it neither causes addiction in teenagers nor serves a gateway to taking more serious drugs, like cocaine or amphetamines. However, these arguments are seriously flawed, as they are based on incomplete or anecdotal evidence, contrary to common sense and clinical studies hinting at detrimental effects of marijuana on human health. Let us go over these considerations one by one.
Potential uses of marijuana for treating certain physiological and mental disorders have been vigorously debated, though not sufficiently studied (Egan). As of yet, scientists discovered several chemicals that may help in alleviating pain, boosting appetite and reducing eye pressure in young people. Some medications transported with marijuana are synthetic compounds, for example, nabilone and dronabinol, which are certified by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as a new extract of plant’s THC known as Sativex, which are used in several European countries and Canada to alleviate pain in cancer or multiple sclerosis (NIDA). Currently, there are nine states that legalized medical applications of marijuana: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. However, marijuana has not been entirely approved by FDA for any diseases due to lack of convincing studies on the matter. In addition, because marijuana is typically smoked by teens and the content varies from plant to plant, marijuana’s possible health benefits may be minimal or non-existent.
Although marijuana use among U.S. teenagers has dropped dramatically since the 1990’s, its negative effects on the health of youths have remained unchanged. Consuming marijuana by teens inflicts the parts of their brain responsible for memory, pleasure, concentration, thinking, temporal and sensory perception, and coordination of movements (NIDA). It comes as no surprise then that marijuana may cause hallucinations, trouble concentrating on the academics, and difficulties with school curriculum. Research shows that in chronic cases, marijuana-related impairment of memory and learning capacity may persist for several days or even weeks after the narcotic effects of the plant disappear.
Moreover, several studies point at a relationship between marijuana use and increased levels of depression, anxiety, or even schizophrenia, with the most pronounced risk of mental disorders recorded among teenagers. Chemical compounds in marijuana may also cause lasting increases in heartbeat rate, potentially leading to arrhythmias or palpitations. The same compounds may carry cancerogenic properties and irritate the lungs’ surface and the digestive system (NIDA). To top it all, marijuana causes disarray in personal and professional life of teenagers by crippling their ability to take consistent and rational decisions.
The most widespread argument in favor of marijuana that it does not cause addiction in teens, as compared to other illegal drugs, does not stand criticism as well. The already mentioned component THC that marijuana contains may cause psychoses, restlessness, weakened appetite, and drug craving, which are commonly experienced by users of other highly addictive narcotics. Such symptoms emerge after one day of abstinence, reach their peak in 2 or 3 days, and gradually disappear within a couple of weeks. Studies on marijuana demonstrate that around 9%, or one person out of 11, who have tried marijuana at least one in a lifetime will become addicted. This percentage goes up to 16%, or 1 person out of 6, when marijuana use begins in one’s teens.
Every year, over a 100,000 teenagers are treated for marijuana addiction, which accounts for the vast majority of all marijuana addiction cases. It should be noted, however, that not everybody who has ever tried marijuana will become addicted. Addiction, as such, is a product of a multitude of other factors, e.g., genetic background, relationships in family and among peers, success in life or academics, to cite a few. It means that although the risk of addiction is high, it takes a combination of circumstances for it to develop (National Institutes of Health 4). However, since the 1980’s, the fraction of THC and other marijuana components, hitting users with a fast “high”, has been on the rise, meaning that the addictive potential of this drug is likely to be getting stronger.
Summing up the discussion, marijuana use by teenagers has both its devoted advocates and fierce opponents. The marijuana supporters claim that the drug is harmless and does not induce addiction, unlike other illegal substances, and that it also has some therapeutic effects, especially in treating terminal diseases. Nonetheless, the opposition’s arguments appear stronger. Although some components in marijuana, indeed, exhibit medicinal qualities, they fall short of compensating for the bodily and mental harm that teenage users of marijuana have to endure. Related research has already proved the negative consequences of marijuana use on the overall well-being and physical health of teenagers, including heart problems and underperformance at school. The statistics from rehabilitation centers also speak against marijuana, as it has been known to cause addiction in users, with teenagers being the primary risk group. Therefore, with all declared benefits of marijuana, its legalization is likely to produce more problems for teenagers than solutions.