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Short And Long Term Effects Of Marijuana Use Among Adolescents

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Substance use, especially the smoking of marijuana, has been a major part of societal functions since the 1960s where its prominence was greatest. During the "Summer of Love" era, many ignored the potentially harmful effects marijuana would have on their bodies and used it as a method of breaking away from the mould of stiff upper lip conservatism lingering in the minds of post-war baby boomers. Nowadays, its usage by adolescents and young adults continues to be a hindrance on their lives and society as a whole. Use of illicit drugs seems to be widespread and increasing (Macleod, Oakes, Copello, Crome, 2004). According to Foley (2006), in America particularly, marijuana remains the most commonly used illicit substance with close to 50% of high school senior students acknowledging use at some time. This is an alarming percentage, and thus, the following piece of prose, with the backing of recent research, will highlight the reasons individuals may become involved with drugs, and the acute and chronic effects marijuana imposes on them. Further familiarity with risk factors can be helpful in screening older children and aiming guidance towards those most likely to benefit.

Marijuana is a green, brown or gray mixture of dried, shredded flowers and leaves from the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa) (Wong, 2005). More often than not, it is smoked rolled in cigarette paper (joint or reefer), in cigars with the marijuana replacing tobacco (blunts), or in small pipes. Occasionally a large pipe contraption, often water filled, is used, commonly known as a bong. Marijuana smoke has a strong distinguishing sweet and sour aroma. Marijuana can also be eaten mixed with food, or drunk as a brewed tea. Potency of the street product has increased over the past three decades from an average content of less than 1% of the psychoactive ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), in 1975, to 6% by the year 2000 (Foley, 2006). Sinsemilla made from the buds or flowering tops of plants, hashish made from the sticky resin from plant flowers and hash oil which is distilled from the hashish, are even more potent forms of marijuana.

According to Foley (2006), the choice to use marijuana by a teen appears to be related to a number of familiar social and environmental factors. When adolescents are exposed to pro-marijuana influences, the risk escalates. Desires to conform and belong to a social group are, by and large, common reasons for starting. Family and social network attitudes concerning substance use have great influence on an individual's choice to use. A sound, well-functioning family unit with good communication skills and sense of expression, results in a decrease of adolescents likely to use marijuana. On the other hand, parents who disengage from their children may promote deviant friendships and generate antisocial behaviour, and thus, more cannabis use among their children. This, of course, is a subjective generalization. Certain situations may cause a variety of different behaviours.

If and when adolescents become involved with marijuana, there are pertaining bodily and psychological effects that occur. According to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report (1998), in terms of acute (short term) effects, the toxicity of cannabis is very low. There have been no reports of anyone dying as an immediate consequence of recreational or medical use. One minor toxic side-effect of taking cannabis which gains recognition is the short-term effect on the heart and vascular system. This can lead to significant increases in heart rate and a lowering of the blood pressure.

The most familiar short-term effect of cannabis is a "high". Most users inhale the smoke of burning marijuana to achieve the most heightened, intense response. THC effects include euphoria and relaxation, perceptual alterations, time distortion, and intensification of experiences such as eating or listening to music. In regards to students and teenagers, this can be most debilitating in a classroom atmosphere. This could lead to social exclusion, problems with memory and learning, trouble with thinking and problem solving, loss of coordination and a sense of the alienation of the self as an individual may feel anxiety and suffer panic attacks. Furthermore, inebriation with cannabis leads to impairment of motor and cognitive function, which is important for those driving a vehicle or operating machinery. This poses as a huge concern from a public health perspective, potentially impacting higher accident rates (Wong, 2005).

In terms of chronic (long term) effects, marijuana smoke contains some of the same, and sometimes even more, of the cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco smoke. Regular marijuana use can lead to substantial airway injury and may promote pulmonary infection. Coughing and wheezing are symptoms common amongst teenage smokers and are reported to have more school absences because of respiratory illness. According to Lynsky and Hall (2000, as cited in Foley, 2006), there is growing evidence that suggests long-term cannabis use produces impairment of memory and attention, and may significantly increase the risk of poor school performance, and in particular, leaving school early.

Physical health problems aside though, there are concerns that illicit cannabis use could cause certain psychological and social problems among teens. In clarification, there have been some examples where cannabis use may lead to a longer-lasting toxic neurosis involving hallucinations and the like that can be misdiagnosed as schizophrenia. It is well recognized that cannabis can exacerbate the symptoms of those already suffering from schizophrenia and may worsen the course of the illness; but there



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