Knox, R.A. (1998, April 7). Marijuana hook found in troubled youths: Study finds dependency most likely in those with behavior problems. The Boston Globe, p. A3.
Seventy million Americans have tried marijuana, but only a few develop serious dependency problems. About one in ten 13-17-year-olds report using marijuana in the previous year (according to an analysis of American household surveys analyzed by Denise Kandel of Columbia University).
A study led by Dr. Thomas J. Crowley has found that adolescents with underlying emotional problems, such as depression and attention deficit, progress from first use to monthly use in one year, about as fast as they progress from first cigarette to regular use. It was two years before this same group of 13- to 19-year-olds got to the same point of alcohol use.
What this study suggests (as reported in the Spring 1998 issue of Addiction Research And Treatment) is that most adolescents with a history of antisocial behavior “will become dependent on marijuana once they try it, and have great difficulty stopping its use.” Another finding is that behavioral problems come before rather than after marijuana use.
Crowley’s study evoked two different responses from experts on two different sides of the the national policy conflict. A top federal drug official, Dr. Alan L. Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse says:
(This study should be a general warning about marijuana’s dangers.) ‘It says that the belief that marijuana is benign is false. The public thinks it’s a cute recreational drug.’
On the other hand, a leading critic of national drug policy, Dr. Lester Grinspoon of the Harvard Medical School and board chairman of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Law, responded: ” ‘When all is said and done, people will see that while marijuana is not harmless, it is much less harmful than alcohol or cocaine or other substances.’ “
Crowley takes a middle position that the results of this study argue against those who believe marijuana “is a drug without adverse effects. This says that with the right people and under the right circumstances, this drug can have very serious effects.”
Crowley’s study showed that teenagers with a history of conduct disorders such as lying, cheating, stealing, physical/sexual violence, and running away from home are most susceptible to marijuana dependency. It is hoped that the findings of this study may help target prevention messages and improve treatment methods.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Have you ever tried or used marijuana? Why or why not?
- What do you know about marijuana, and what questions do you have about it?
- Do you agree with the results of this study?
- How do you think cigarette, alchohol, marijuana, and other drug abuse-that endangers the health of abuser and may hurt others as well-can best be prevented and treated?
- Early smoking, alcohol, and drug use continue to rise. That there are long-term negative effects to individuals and society is clear.
- Most of these dependencies begin during or before the teenage years.
- Prevention is more effective than treatment; both of which must be improved, if for no other reason than the cost of addictions to society.
- Counter-advertising, slick messages, and legal sanctions are not the most effective ways to reach troubled and rebellious young people. The primary strategy should be to help children and youth become healthier and wiser. Showing them, with attention and care, what they can be is more effective than telling them what not to do.
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