On November 2, Florida voters will make the decision to approve or disapprove of medical marijuana. Because marijuana is the drug most commonly used by teenagers, this decision will have a tremendous effect on the teen population.
The amendment will only give people with debilitating conditions, including: “cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, [and] multiple sclerosis,” the ability to acquire marijuana. However, some believe that the passage of this amendment will inevitably lead to the legalization of recreational marijuana, making it easier than ever before for a teenager to get hold of the drug.
In their youth, humans have larger brains with more synapses, or the “connectors of information,” but as we age, the brain shrinks and loses synapses. Synapse loss is a regular part of human brain development; as we get older, we do not need to learn as much new information as a child does.
The National Public Radio interviewed Krista Lisdahl, the director of the brain and imaging and neuropsychology lab at the University of Milwaukee. According to Lisdahl, the teenage years are very important to human development, as these years are the last before a fully-developed brain is reached. This “adult brain” has a lower number of synapses, making learning new things in the future a harder task.
At the age of adolescence, it is important to keep the brain healthy, as an unhealthy brain will not develop correctly. This is why teenagers should avoid drugs including alcohol and marijuana.
When regularly used by teenagers, marijuana can actually cause the structure of the brain to change. Synapses are lost at a higher than normal rate, which leads to memory loss and difficulty with problem-solving.
In some cases, heavy marijuana use has led to a permanent IQ drop, sometimes as much as eight IQ points. Emotional changes can also be present, such as mood swings and difficulty adjusting to new social groups.
While marijuana itself cannot kill a person, it is responsible for about 370,000 visits to the emergency room each year, and 12 percent of those cases are teenagers.
Marijuana can also cause the same level of impairment as alcohol, so it is just as dangerous to “smoke and drive,” something that teenagers are known to do. Marijuana can also cause anxiety attacks and paranoia, which can in turn lead to suicide.
Although some claim that marijuana is not addictive, it is estimated that 25 to 50 percent of marijuana users become addicted, and as all other addictive substances, marijuana is difficult to quit. Marijuana withdrawal can cause irritability, sleeplessness, lack of appetite, anxiety, and a stronger craving for drugs.
Marijuana usage among teenagers was at its highest in the late 1970s, with 50 percent of adolescents using it. After a harsh anti-drugs campaign by the Reagan administration, marijuana use fell to 20 percent of teens. In the mid-90s, marijuana use within the age range rose to over 35 percent and has remained at about that number since.
Although the quantity of marijuana users fell, the amount of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol – or THC, the active ingredient – in marijuana has risen from about 4 percent in the mid-1980s to 15 percent in 2012.
Marijuana hinders a teenager’s abilities to drive and make conscious decisions. It can cause a person’s IQ to go down and also slows brain development.
As voters make their way to the polls on November 2, they should be aware that their decision to legalize medical marijuana will affect more than the users of medical marijuana, but also their children.