HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Pot More Addictive For Youth, Drug Expert Warns
Pubdate: Fri, 24 Nov 2006
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2006 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Bruce Ward, CanWest News Service


OTTAWA -- Young People Can Easily Become Dependent on Marijuana 
Because Their Brains Are Still Developing, Says an Expert on Youth 
Substance Abuse.

"Kids can get addicted really quickly, like six months," said Kathy 
Szirtes, who spoke Thursday at a public forum in Ottawa on 
problematic marijuana use among youth. "An adult may take two years, 
but kids can take six months because their bodies are still soft and 
growing. The teen brain really isn't done growing."

For young people who use marijuana to deal with anxiety or to get to 
sleep, the drug "can literally become hard-wired into them in terms 
of a dependency," she added.

"You see this in adults who say, 'Oh I need a few drinks before I'm 
going to dance.' The same thing happens with kids who use weed and 
say, 'I can't relax in a movie for that long unless I'm stoned. A lot 
of it is psychological,' " said Szirtes.

It is a myth that marijuana use is not harmful, said Szirtes, a 
specialist in youth mental health and substance abuse who works in 
Victoria, B.C.

"We're seeing massive numbers of kids who can't use weed safely. And 
so you get these frustrated parents who might be saying, 'Why can't 
you just use on the weekend. Come on, we used to.' " Marijuana can be 
"very addictive both psychologically and physiologically," she said, 
adding that "it has a little bit gentler withdrawal effects than other drugs."

The debate on decriminalization and legalization of marijuana has 
been misinterpreted by many young people who believe the drug is not 
harmful, added Szirtes.

"I do know a lot of kids have taken that message and just only read 
the piece that says it's probably not harmful. It's not harmful to 
everyone, but in fact it's harmful to a lot of people," she said, 
noting when young people get into marijuana dependency cycles, it 
causes behaviour changes.

"You start wrecking relationships with family, with teachers, your 
memory goes, you can't sleep properly unless you have a toke before 
bed and on it goes. We're certainly seeing a rise in problems in the 
high schools."

Because marijuana interferes with sleep, "kids are at school and 
they're exhausted," added Szirtes.

Marijuana cravings for young people often look like attention-deficit 
hyperactivity disorder symptoms. Other signs include changes in 
friends, sleep disturbances, and mood swings.

"I think the average parent should be as concerned about marijuana as 
they would be about any other hard drug," said Szirtes. "While 
marijuana is not necessarily immediately detrimental to the system, 
because of its long-term effects it is overall just as harmful as any 
other hard drug."
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