Pubdate: Fri, 14 Nov 2014
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2014 New Haven Register
Author: Cate Bourke
Note: Tri-Town Youth Service Cate Bourke is a prevention coordinator 
at Tri-Town Youth Services, based in Deep River.
Page: A12


If we are the parents or guardians of infants, toddlers, young 
children, we may be telling ourselves that we have nothing to be 
concerned about regarding the current marijuana controversies.

By the time our kids are tweens and teens, our story goes, issues 
related to marijuana (decriminalization, medicalization, and 
legalization) will be settled once and for all, and settled with the 
health and safety of our kids in mind.

If, instead, our kids are tweens or teens today, when our young 
people tell us that pot is very easy to acquire or that "everybody 
smokes weed," we're definitely relieved that "it's just marijuana" 
and not some more formidable drug they can easily get. And if we'd 
ever used marijuana ourselves we may think, "What's the big deal? I 
smoked pot and I turned out OK."

It may serve us - and our kids - very well to let these stories go 
for a moment and look at the science.

Science has a way of advancing/updating our stories.

For instance, consider our solar system. We used to believe it was 
heliocentric, that is, our planets rotated around a fixed sun. But 
today we depict our solar system itself as racing through space at 
43,000-plus miles an hour; the sun is not fixed but behaves more like 
a comet, dragging our planets behind it in a helical wake. Yikes! 
That's an astoundingly different story than we've been telling 
ourselves up till now, and complex, and somewhat difficult for us to 
fully wrap our brains around.

Advanced imaging technologies have not only better informed us about 
the skies; they have led to similar astounding discoveries about the 
human brain itself, and particularly the developing adolescent brain. 
A decade ago, the story we were told about the human brain was that 
it achieved its adult size before puberty. Ah, brain development 
complete, we thought, and attributed the changes and challenges of 
adolescence to "hormones." But, just like our solar system story, the 
truth about the human brain is much more complex than we realized.

As it turns out, "gray matter," or regions of the brain involved in 
muscle control, sensory perception, memory, emotions, speech, 
decision making and self-control, are adult-sized before puberty. Yet 
these regions remain highly discreet or minimally connected at 
puberty, while "white matter," or brain circuitry, development has 
only just begun.

Between puberty and young adulthood (approximately age 25), science 
now informs us, a 100 billion discreet neurons - as many cells as 
stars in the Milky Way galaxy - learn to link instantly in circuits 
through trillions of pathways in the human brain. It is this process 
of pathway construction and neural connection that's hijacked, 
damaged, possibly permanently when an adolescent uses marijuana regularly.

Dosage and frequency - how much and how often one uses during this 
critical developmental period - matter too. So why aren't the use of 
marijuana or alcohol so detrimental to adults? Waiting until the 
brain has fully matured to use any intoxicating substance protects 
the brain while it's under construction. Second only to the period of brain

SMS: development between the ages of zero to age 3, the brain is most 
at risk and at promise in the adolescent.

Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), a nonpartisan alliance 
of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens was joined by 
the American Society of Addiction Medicine and dozens of other groups 
in launching the ad, "Perception/ Reality," depicting a young 
laidback man's face ("perception") juxtaposed over the body of 
high-powered business executive's body ("reality") implying that if 
America is not careful, we will soon have a very large, powerful 
marijuana industry on our hands.

Decriminalization and medicalization of marijuana (enacted in CT in 
2011 and 2012, respectively) won't change brain development facts. 
Such legislation has been shown, though, to decrease youth perception 
of risk and increase youth accessibility to marijuana.

After medical marijuana legislation passed in Colorado, 70 percent of 
youth in treatment for marijuana addiction or dependence in that 
state reported they acquired marijuana from a medical marijuana cardholder.

By 2013, Colorado and Washington state legalized the recreational use 
of marijuana for individuals over the age of 21. It would seem wise 
to keep our eyes and ears open to the outcomes for youth on the west coast.

One out of six people who begin using marijuana in adolescence will 
suffer from addiction, possibly throughout their lifespan. And 
several studies suggest that frequent adolescent use that continues 
into one's 30s can result in a drop of 6 to 8 IQ points.

Regarding medicalization (the legalization of a doctor's 
recommendation and a patient's use of marijuana to mitigate the 
impact of certain medical conditions), a story of "compassionate 
care" has successfully moved the marijuana industry closer to more 
widespread legalization of recreational use. That's not to say there 
is no merit in these stories. But what about our kids?

There's a belief in the industry that legalization is inevitable; 
freedom of choice is the American way. So let's be sure we know the 
facts and share the truth about the risks with our kids.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom