Pubdate: Wed, 09 Apr 2003
Source: News & Observer (NC)
Copyright: 2003 The News and Observer Publishing Company
Author: Anne Blythe, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Experts Say The Drug Is Increasingly Seen As Harmless But Is More Potent 
Than Ever

CHAPEL HILL -- Even though baby-boomer parents might have smoked pot in 
their younger years, experts say the kids today should steer clear of 

The straight dope? It's not your parents' weed anymore. What's on the 
streets now is much more potent than several decades ago. Studies and 
reports show that street pot seized during drug arrests in the late 1990s 
was twice as potent as that confiscated in the late 1980s and four times 
the strength of that picked up in the 1970s. Articles in scientific 
journals show that average levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, an 
active ingredient in marijuana that produces the high, have risen from 
roughly 2 percent in the 1970s to an average of 5 percent two years ago.

"The U.S. Drug Enforcement [Administration] actually monitors the THC 
content of their seizures," said Terrill Bravender, a professor of 
pediatrics and director of adolescent medicine at Duke University. "It's 
true that the majority seized today has more THC in it than in what was 
seized in the late '60s and early '70s."

Throughout the Triangle, high school students, law enforcement officials 
and counselors say alcohol and drug use have become the norm these days at 
many teenage gatherings.

"It's an old notion that alcohol and drugs are passageways to adulthood," 
said Kenneth C. Mills, a private behavioral counselor in Chapel Hill and 
member of a newly formed panel that wants to draw attention to the issue. 
"The social norm that's creeping in is that pot is harmless. The second 
norm that is creeping in, with the potency that we're seeing today, with 
the strength we're seeing, addiction problems are creeping in."

Parents, counselors and others worried about the trend have banded together 
in Chapel Hill to get people talking about alcohol and drug use among 
teens. A community panel discussion is set for Thursday at Chapel Hill High 

"Any time you get a group of parents who rally around an issue and bring it 
to other parents, that's a good thing," said Matt Sullivan, a crisis 
counselor at the Chapel Hill Police Department.

There are different theories on the effects of the more potent pot. Some 
say stronger does not necessarily mean more dangerous, especially if it 
takes less smoke inhalation to get the same high.

But physicians and counselors challenge such thinking. They say 
decision-making and cognitive skills are impaired long after the high wears 
off and that as long as THC is in the body -- and that can be two to three 
days after one-time use -- learning new things can be difficult.

But it's not just the potency of today's marijuana that troubles counselors 
and parents. They say drug and alcohol use has become so accepted among 
teens that many forget it is illegal.

Court officials also are seeing the acceptance of ecstasy and ketamine, an 
animal tranquilizer, in some social circles.

"It's not uncommon to hear about somebody going to a party and getting 
drunk or getting high," said DeWarren Langley, 18, a senior at Jordan High 
School in Durham. "I don't think it should be the norm."

In Wake County, of the students who responded to a 2001 risk behavior 
survey, 40 percent of 2,462 reported using marijuana one or more times 
during their life, 10 percent of 2,481 said they had tried it before age 
13, and 20 percent of 2,493 said they had used pot one or more times within 
30 days of the survey.

"There is drug use and drug abuse," said Eric Sparks, director of school 
counseling for Wake County schools. "It's hard to tell how widespread it is."

As has been the case for several decades, many parents often seem surprised 
to find that their children are among those drinking or using drugs.

"Most parents don't even know their kids are using," said Linda Hammock, a 
substance abuse prevention and intervention counselor at Chapel Hill High 
School who works consistently with 100 students in the 1,700-student body.

Many of the teens she talks with, she said, consider themselves moderate 
users if they smoke pot or drink three or four times a month. "To me, for 
high school kids to be drinking and using two or three times a month, that 
is significant," Hammock said.

"They absolutely think they're very moderate. For an adult, that would even 
be perceived as moderate, but they're in high school."
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager