Pubdate: Mon, 10 May 2004
Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)
Copyright: 2004 The Charlotte Observer
Author: Benedict Carey, Los Angeles Times
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Government Data Shows Drug's Potency Higher Than In Past

The high-potency marijuana now widely available in cities and some small 
towns is causing an increasing number of teenagers -- and some preteens -- 
to land in drug treatment centers or emergency rooms, recent government 
statistics suggest.

The numbers are not conclusive, experts say, but have renewed scientific 
interest in and debate about the risks of marijuana use.

"The stereotypes of marijuana smoking are way out of date," said Michael 
Dennis, a research psychologist in Bloomington, Ill. "The kids we see are 
not only smoking stronger stuff at a younger age but their pattern of use 
might be three to six blunts -- the equivalent of three or four joints each 
- -- just for themselves, in a day. That's got nothing to do with what mom or 
dad did in high school. It might as well be a different drug."

Although overall marijuana use in minors has declined slightly since the 
mid-1990s, recently released statistics from hospitals and treatment 
centers suggest that the drug is causing many young users serious problems. 
Late last year, federal health officials reported that the number of 
marijuana-related emergency room visits for ages 12 to 17 had more than 
tripled since 1994, to 7,535 in 2001, the latest year for which figures 
were available.

The most common reason for the visit was an "unexpected reaction" to the 
drug. "Overdose" was cited in 10 percent of these cases, "chronic effects" 
in 6 percent and "accident or injury" in 4 percent.

The latest U.S. Health and Human Services Department data show that 
marijuana or hashish use is, by far, the most common reason why children 
age 12 to 17 were placed in licensed public or private treatment centers, 
accounting for more than 60 percent of reported cases in 2001.

In an analysis published recently, researchers at Columbia University's 
National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse calculated that the 
treatment rate for cannabis dependence in youngsters had jumped 142 percent 
in the last decade.

It is too early to tell whether these statistics truly represent a surge in 
habitual use, experts said. Admission figures could be skewed by changes in 
the way some states collect data and report it to the federal government. 
Forced treatment is also a way many teens avoid juvenile detention after a 
drug arrest.

Most children who smoke marijuana are occasional users, experts said. And 
there is little evidence that a heavy marijuana user who quits the habit 
will experience the kind of physical withdrawal symptoms reported by heroin 
or cocaine users.

Because marijuana seized by federal authorities today is about twice as 
potent as it was in the 1980s, health officials are taking the drug more 

Although some scientists doubt that marijuana induces real physical 
dependence, many top drug researchers have concluded otherwise.

"There is no question marijuana can be addictive; that argument is over," 
said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 
"The most important thing right now is to understand the vulnerability of 
young, developing brains to these increased concentrations of cannabis." 
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