News coverage of the recently released Arizona Youth Survey focused on the alarming increase in vaping by the state’s teens. But that wasn’t the only bad news in the survey of nearly 49,000 eighth, tenth and twelfth graders.
The number of teens who said they regularly use marijuana jumped by nearly a third since the 2016 report. And nearly one in three students said they’ve tried marijuana, a 5-percentage-point increase in just two years.
Nearly one-fourth said they had tried highly potent concentrates. One in six said they’d ridden in a car with someone who used pot.
One-fourth of those who use pot regularly said they got it from a medical-marijuana card holder, and another 11 percent said they bought it at a dispensary.
While I’m glad legislators are acting to keep the highly addictive nicotine in e-cigarettes out of teens’ hands, I wish there was the same public response to the rising use of marijuana among teens. Instead, the marijuana industry has been allowed to promote a portrait of pot as medicine, safer than alcohol, a cure to the opioid crisis, a godsend for the elderly (never mind that most Arizona medical card holders are men under 30).
Teens hear this message. They hear that vaping is safer than smoking and flock to it. They hear that marijuana is harmless and use it at record rates.
This needs to change.
You’d expect me to say this. I work every day to keep kids drug free. But what if a former investigative reporter for The New York Times says the same thing? That’s what Alex Berenson warns in his new book, “Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence.”
The scientific literature has turned remarkably against marijuana even while legalization madness has spread across the country. As Berenson notes, the National Academy of Medicine reported in 2017 that “Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.”
This is in part because marijuana is so much stronger than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. Then, THC content was generally 5 percent or less. Today, leafy marijuana averages 25 percent THC, and extracts are nearly pure THC. It’s the difference between taking a few sips of beer and downing a bottle of whiskey.
Other studies have shown that teens’ still-developing brains are at greater risk of developing psychoses with regular marijuana use.
Berenson points out that the first four states to legalize marijuana have seen sharp increases in murders and aggravated assaults since 2014 – far higher than the rest of the nation. So much for marijuana mellowing the population.
Marijuana is a dangerous, mind-altering drug. In today’s highly potent forms, it poses risks to adults and children, but the risks are far greater for teens. Let’s no longer let the pot profiteers fill our children’s brains with dangerous messages. It’s time to make sure the truth is told, so the next youth survey doesn’t give us even more to be alarmed about.
— Merilee Fowler is executive director of MATFORCE, a Yavapai County nonprofit striving to eliminate substance abuse. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.