The marijuana mythbusters
UF researchers’ new book “Weed” tackles misperceptions about marijuana
By April Frawley Birdwell
More than half of Americans now think marijuana should be legalized, according to survey results the Pew Research Center released in April. But could an inaccurate understanding about modern marijuana and the dangers it poses — particularly to adolescents — be skewing people’s opinions on the subject?
Yes, according to a new book written by University of Florida addiction medicine specialists Scott Teitelbaum, M.D., and Michael Nias, J.D., L.C.S.W. The book, titled “Weed: Family Guide to Marijuana Myths and Facts,” is geared toward helping families wade through conflicting information about the drug, which is now legal for medicinal purposes in 18 states.
One of the main issues people do not understand is that marijuana is a much stronger drug than it was in decades past, due to crop engineering, Teitelbaum said. In fact, the concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the chemical in marijuana that causes users to feel high — is five to seven times higher in the drug today than it was in the 1970s, he added.
“This isn’t your father’s marijuana,” said Teitelbaum, medical director of the UF Health Florida Recovery Center and an associate professor of psychiatry in the UF College of Medicine. “The higher THC concentration is associated with more psychiatric problems and more dependence.”
Because of the legalization of medical marijuana in certain states and the decriminalization of the drug in others, many people now see the drug as safe, and this perception directly affects use, Teitelbaum said.
“We know when you look at adolescents, initiation of a drug is inversely proportional to its perceived danger,” he said. “Throughout history if a drug has been perceived as safe and benign, it’s more likely to be tried by young people. But marijuana is not a benign drug. It is associated with addiction and learning problems.”
Marijuana use can be particularly risky for adolescents, whose brains are still developing, Teitelbaum added. Typically, women’s brains reach full development in their early 20s, while men’s brains reach maturity in their mid-20s. Teens who have genetic predispositions for developing certain mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, are particularly at risk.
“Introducing drugs with neurotoxic effects during this time, while the brain is still developing, can be very damaging. It’s similar to a pregnant woman drinking alcohol,” he said.
In addition, teens who try marijuana before age 15 face a four times greater chance of developing an addiction later in life than their peers who don’t smoke pot, according to the book. Unfortunately, Teitelbaum says studies show that about 15 percent of eighth-grade students have already been exposed to the drug.
“The more you can do to stop initiation of drugs and have honest and open communication, the better chance you have of not having your child develop a drug addiction,” Teitelbaum said.
“Weed: Family Guide to Marijuana Myths and Facts” is available for purchase on the University Press of Florida website as well as on amazon.com in both paperback and e-book.