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Now that it ‘s legal to purchase marijuana in the state of Colorado, it has become even more important to have the discussion with your pre-teens and teens about the myths or misinformation they’ve heard about use. If you live in Colorado, they might be exposed to adults smoking it in private homes like they would have a glass a wine. For those of us living in other states, our kids might view this as approval from authorities that it’s safe to use. The fact is that marijuana is the most popular drug in the country and although it is illegal for those under the age of 21, it is going to be more easily accessible. Since 2007 we’ve seen an increase in use among young people with 14% of 12 – 17 year olds and 30% of Americans between 18 - 25 reporting usage in 2012. Close to half of 8th graders surveyed believe that pot use isn’t dangerous or doesn’t pose much risk. Can you blame them? With 2 states legalizing use and successful, healthy looking, high profile stars like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Michael Phelps, Justin Timberlake and Miley Cirus publicly stating that they smoke, it’s hard for any young adult to think otherwise.

In reality, marijuana is an addictive substance that does have negative affects on the body and mind. For those of you thinking back to your college days, you should know that the average potency has increased from 3% THC in the 1990’s to almost 15% THC today. Tetrahydrocannabinol is main ingredient in marijuana that stimulates the brain to release dopamine, which in turn creates the euphoric feeling some users describe. It also interferes with how information in the brain is processed and can cause delusions and hallucinations.

Some of the negative side affects of smoking marijuana are sluggishness, foggy thinking and poor judgment skills, impaired intelligence and reasoning. Within a few minutes of smoking, the heart rate increases by 20 – 50 beats per minute and blood pressure drops, which creates a higher risk for heart attack. Regular users suffer from the same lung problems that cigarette smokers do including inhaling carcinogenic hydrocarbons, increased risk of coughing and lung infections and upper respiratory illnesses.

Recent studies show that teenagers are particularly susceptible to the negative effects because their prefrontal cortex is still developing. Therefore, teenagers have a higher risk of lowering their IQ because it interferes with the normal brain development during these prime years. It also makes the individual feel extremely relaxed and unmotivated which can contribute to a decline in study habits and grades.

Parents can help prevent their kids from getting involved by talking to them about it as early as the 5th and 6th grade. To begin the conversation, you can ask them what they’ve heard about marijuana or pot. Listen closely and don’t interrupt or make comments. Then offer the facts and negative consequences of smoking it and convey your stance on the topic in a calm and clear manner.  Many parents also take a proactive stance by signing them up for after school or online drug awareness classes.  If your child brings up the fact that it’s now legal in some states, so must not be that bad, you can respond that there are unfortunately legal drugs that are unsafe to consume. Discuss alcohol and tobacco as examples. Most of all, be a positive role model! If your teen sees you drinking or smoking marijuana to relax, then they will more likely think it’s a safe way to handle stress and enjoy themselves.

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