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Drug Free Youth-Marijuana Back to Course Index









Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration/Center of Substance Abuse Prevention (SAMHSA/CSAP) identified information dissemination and education as one of their initiatives to reduce alcohol and other drug use among youths. 


The goal of this initiative is to provide awareness and knowledge of the nature and extent of substance use, abuse, and addiction and their effects on individual, families, and communities.  This initiative is also intended to provide knowledge and awareness of available prevention programs and services.  Information dissemination is characterized by one-way communication from the source (Parent) to the audience (children) whereas the education focus involves two-way communication and is distinguished from the information dissemination strategy by the fact that interaction between the educator/facilitator and the participants is the basis of its activities (target adolescences and older).  Activities under this strategy aim to affect critical life and social skills, including decision-making, refusal skills, coping and problem solving skills, critical analysis and systematic judgment abilities.



To achieve the greatest impact, educational programs must be appropriate to each audience, geared to specific needs, and used in conjunction with other strategies.   Programs components for educational initiatives may consist of family management training, alcohol, tobacco and other drug curricula, health and wellness curricula, violence prevention training and skills training. 



This continuing education course is intended to provide general information and instruction to help keep our youth drug free.  The early sections are general and not necessarily substance specific.  However, the final section is specific to marijuana and provides parents/caregiver and others information they can use to educate youth regarding marijuana.  Subsequent parts of this series will deal with other drugs.





Researchers have concluded that recent trends in youth drug use have stabilized.  Unfortunately, the rate of use remains at a high level and many youths are adversely affected by their choice to use.  Many youths encounter problems with their family, community, law enforcement and lose interest in academics and other school activities.  Also, the risk of injury increases almost exponentially when they choose to use and then operate a motor vehicle.  The risk increases because a youth under the influence is less inhibited and more easily persuaded to take higher risks; consequently, the self-induced mental distortions coupled with limited driving experience often results in tragedy.



Researchers have also concluded that the earlier drug use is initiated, the more likely a person is to develop drug problems later in life.  Youth substance abuse may lead to many other problems that affect not only the youth, but also the youths family and community.



When examining this situation it becomes clear that the parents/home environment is the first line of defense against drug use.  As President George W. Bush stated: it is essential that our parents understand that theyre the childs most important teacher, and that the message of the parents must be unequivocal: dont use drugs.


Parents are the most important role models in their childrens lives.  What they say and do about drugs matters when it comes to the choices their children make.  For example, parents can:


        Be a positive example; avoid use of all alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATOD) in the home and in the presence of their children.


         Never involve them in adults use of ATOD or never use with them.



        Talk early and often about drugs.  The parents must be aware of the latest trends and the best way to combat them.  For example, some chemicals and other items that are commonly found in the home can be very dangerous.


        Discuss the consequences of drug use; focus on teen pregnancy, school dropout, violence and other antisocial consequences.



        Create clear, consistent expectations and enforce them.


        Stay involved in your childrens life; show that you care about the choices they make about drugs.



        Parents should always remember that children learn by example. They adopt the values the parents demonstrate through their example.  It should be noted that good values are modeled as well as bad values and we owe our children every positive value that we can offer to help them avoid the pitfalls associated with drug use.




Early Adolescence   


For many parents and other caregivers it may seem too early to discuss drugs with this age group, but the attitudes and habits that they form during this phase of their life will have an important bearing on the decisions they make when they are older. Most psychologists support the early education concept.  For example, psychologists believe that an individuals value/belief system reflects his/her perception of self and represents values, judgments and myths that he/she believes to be true.  The psychologists go on to say that a persons value/belief system is fairly well established by about age seven and is refined and honed by lifes experiences to make them into the persons they are at any given time in their life.  


The value/belief system is the major control and decision-making guide and helps the youth to choose between right and wrong and things we do versus things we dont do.  Most youths have a value/belief system about:



  •         Good and bad conduct; playing fair; being helpful 
  •         Drug use
  •         Religion/Church activities/Sunday School
  •         Peer pressure/social acceptance 
  •         Social involvement
  •         Family roles




If a substance abuse or behavioral problem is encountered, then the clinician, counselor or parent/caregiver should explore a youths value/belief system to better understand what they believe about various topics including topics related to drug use.  An area that is recommended to be explored is the environment they were exposed to during their early life.  For example, determine if their parents or caregivers had a permissive attitude toward drugs.  Also does the youth have friends who use drugs and what was the norm regarding use of alcohol and other drugs in their community.  One may also want to explore other issues to determine what boundaries, if any, were established for the youth.  For example:



        Was limits or restrictions imposed on the youth?


        Was the youth allowed to experiment with tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs in the home?


        At what age did the youth start to drink or smoke?


        Was there a permissive attitude regarding social activities?


        Did the youth have a detailed schedule?


        Did the parents involve themselves with the youths friends?


        Did the parents monitor school and other activities?



Obviously, this exploration is an attempt to assess the variables that help the youth to establish his or her value system. 


Generally, a permissive attitude and environment will provide early opportunities to experiment with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.  This liberal, permissive environment enables a young person to form a flawed image of most activities (no boundaries or limits) and/or to establish a distorted mental picture of specific activity (such as use of alcohol and other drugs).   To give an example of how our belief/values work in the life of a drug user, lets suppose a youth forms a concept of a problem user as one who drops out of school and has had trouble with the law.  Now, lets suppose this individual is a user but does not meet his or her pre-programmed characteristics of how they perceive a user to act and be.  In this case, the individual would test his or her situation against his or her value/belief system and would conclude he or she does not have a problem.  The cycle may be repeated until there is a match between his/her behavior and his/her pre-programmed belief/value system about drug use.  It should also be noted that an individuals belief system about drug use might change in response to his or her own experiences and influences from clinicians and other treatment providers.  The cycle may also be disrupted by other factors (generally a crisis) in the users life.


The aforementioned concepts are presented in support of and to promote early family discussions regarding ATOD.  Again, most professionals agree that to wait until a drug problem is encountered or until about age 16 is much too late (the value/belief system is already in place and the kid down the street will have more influence at this age than the parents). 


Consequently, it is encouraged for counselors, school staff, parents, caregivers and others to get involved early and stay focused on the negative consequences of ATOD use and abuse.


Also, remember that youths key on inconsistency.  For example, a youth is often confused when the parents says one thing and then does differently.  Youth also pit parents against each other and then migrate toward the most liberal parent. The parents, along with the mental health and school professionals should present a unified front and resolve any differences in private.


Okay we have put a heavy load on the parents/caregivers and have not offered any preventative measures the youth can take to help themselves.  So here are some considerations that will help the youth to shape and mold themselves (or to be shaped and molded by others) into well-adjusted young citizens that have developed age appropriate coping and problem solving skills.  Hopefully, they will also be capable of making good decisions about most aspects of their lives (what should and should not go into their bodies, social activities, peers, school, hobbies, etc.).  Remember, at this age, they are generally eager to know and memorize rules, and they want your opinion on whats good and whats bad.  Although they are old enough to understand that smoking is bad for them, they generally are not ready to take on complex facts about tobacco.  The following serve as reminders to be passed on as ways to help youth make good decisions, have a high self-esteem and to develop age appropriate coping and problem solving skills:



        The youth should eat healthy foods; discuss food types and favorites and inform them how certain foods help build healthy bodies.


        Build strong bonds of trust though dedicated play and discussion times between parent and child.  Focus on the childs likes and dislikes and complement them when possible on their choices.  Let them know that you enjoy spending special time with them and doing activities they like.  Also, let them know that you love them and want them.


        Encourage and enforce fair play; provide guidelines for sharing toys and telling the truth so that the youth knows what kind of behavior is expected of them.  Be consistent especially when playing games.  Its challenging to hold the line when both the child and parents want the child to win.   However, one must remember the goal is to help shape a well rounded youth that can cope with both winning as well as loosing.  To bring up a child in an environment where they always get their way and/or win can yield a child with antisocial behavior patterns and is a high risk for poor coping skills such as bullying.


          Encourage your child to follow directions and to ask questions if he or she does not understand the instructions.  Encourage the youth to verbalize the situation as opposed to acting out.


        Encourage the child to be self-sufficient.  For example, let them choose their clothing as this reinforces their ability to make decisions and also helps their self-esteem.  Look for opportunities to compliment (or praise) the child; remember to praise in public and instruct in private.


        Most youth are naturally curious and want to learn new things and to experiment.  This curiosity is normal and presents parents an opportunity to explain things in the home environment what could be harmful to them.  For example, the parent can point out poisonous and harmful substances commonly found in the home, such as bleach, kitchen cleansers and furniture polish that can be harmful and that they should not taste or smell any of these items.  Also, this is a good time to explain to them that medications prescribed by a doctor and administered by a responsible adult may help during illness but can be harmful to children.  It is recommended that all prescription medication be keep out of the reach of children. 


Remember, a childs curiosity will be satisfied one way or the other.  I remember a story about little Johnny.  With the enthusiasm that only a six year old can have he burst into the living room and asked his father to tell him about beer. The father was deeply engrossed in a football game and told him that he did not have time to talk and for him to go outside and play.  He left and went down the street and met little Jimmie.  He asks Jimmie to tell him about beer and Jimmies response was: I do not know but lets go get one and find out. The childs natural curiosity also offers parents/caregivers opportunities to explain why its okay for adults do certain thing and not okay for children.  For example, when questions come up about ATOD its a good time to introduce the concept that adults may drink in moderation, although some recommend total abstinence when the children are present, but children may not, even in small amounts because its harmful to their developing brains and bodies.







The adolescence years are both exciting and challenging and this is the time when peer pressure becomes very important, as most youths desperately want to fit in.  Also, there are encounters with older youths that may have already begin to use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and may think they are cool and self-assured.  This environment may tempt a youth to try drugs too.  It should be every parents goal to make sure their youths life is structured in such a way that drugs have no place in it.  The following actions are recommended to help to keep youth drug-free.  These recommendations can be offered to parents and utilized in schools:



        Ensure that they are well versed in the reasons why they should avoid use of ATOD.  Parents should go beyond because I said so and get age appropriate educational material and videos for them to digest.  There is loads of material on the Internet from website like National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) that is free and readily available.


        Make your home youth friendly.  Get acquainted with the parents of your childrens friends and learn about their childrens interests and habits.  Get to know the parents of your youths friends and exchange phone numbers and addresses.  Agree to forbid each others youth from consuming alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs in their homes, and pledge that you will inform each other if one of you becomes aware of a youth who violates this pact. If it seems that your youth is attracted to those with bad habits, reiterate why drug use is unacceptable.


        If possible, provide adult supervision for your youth.  Its never good for them to be left on there on for long periods of time.  It is essential that parents/caregivers arrange to have their youth looked after and engaged in the after-school hours. An acceptable alternative is that the youth can get involved with reputable youth groups, arts, music, sports, community service and academic clubs.


        If it is mandatory to leave the youth alone, make sure the youth feels your presence.  Give them a schedule and set limits on their behavior.  Give them household chores to accomplish and enforce strict phone-in-to-you policy.


        Make it easy for your youth to leave a place where substances are being used.  Discuss with them in advance how o contact you or another designated adult in order to get a ride home.  If another adult provides the transportation, be available to talk to your youth about the situation when he or she arrives home.


        Set age appropriate curfews and enforce them.


        Encourage open dialogue with your youth about their experiences.  Tell your child, I love you and trust you, but I dont trust the world around you, and I need to know whats going on in your life so I can be a good parent to you.



Public and private schools have a responsibility to educate and protect all students.  There should be nothing confusing or contradictory in what children learns about drugs from the parents and in the school system. For example, school policies need to reflect the same attitude toward use and abuse of ATOD as is express in the home:  Drug use is not acceptable.   Its critical that youth understand that drugs diminish their ability to concentrate and follow through on academic responsibilities, they cause absenteeism and loss of motivation, and students who use them can be disruptive and drain teachers time and energy.



Parents can:


        Learn about the current policy regarding ATOD at your school.  If there is not an anti-drug policy in place, schedule a meeting with the school administration to help develop a policy.  The policy should specify what constitutes an ATOD offense, spell out the consequences for failing to follow the rules and describe procedures for handling violations.


        Know the drug education program at your school.  Staff should be trained about ATOD use and abuse and how to recognize symptoms in those who choose to use and abuse.  Drug education should be taught in an age appropriate way throughout the school year rather than once during a special week.  All teachers should incorporate anti-drug information into their classes.  The school program should be based on current research.  If the drug activity is high in your school you may want to become more involved and inform the school administration that there is a need for improvement in this area.


        Study the schools drug education program at home.  You should examine any existing material to ensure that they contain clear messages that ATOD use is wrong and harmful.  You should also verify that the information is accurate and up to date.


        Ask about the consequences for those who are caught abusing drugs.   Does the school offer a list of referrals for students who need substance abuse counseling?


        Determine if your school drug program is effective.  Research indicates that some of the most effective programs emphasize the value of life skills training such as coping with anxiety, problem solving, being assertive and feeling comfortable socially.  When these lessons are combined with drug education, students confronted with drugs are better equipped to resist them.








Drug addiction has been labeled a disease of the brain.  Lets take a look at the brain and how it functions to begin our study how to keep our youth drug free.  This material was taken for the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) website.


The brain is the command center of the body. It weighs about three pounds, and has different centers or systems that process different kinds of information. The brain stem is the most primitive structure at the base of your brain and controls heart rate, breathing, and sleeping; it does the things you never think about.


Various parts or lobes of the brain process information from your sense organs: the occipital lobe receives information from your eyes, for example. And the cerebral cortex, on top of the whole brain, is the “thinking” part of you. That’s where you store and process language, math, and strategies: It’s the thinking center. Buried deep within the cerebral cortex is the limbic system, which is responsible for survival: It remembers and creates an appetite for the things that keep you alive, such as good food and the company of other human beings.


The cerebellum is responsible for things you learn once and never have to think about, such as balance when walking or how to throw a ball.


The brain’s job is to process information. Brain cells called neurons receive and send messages to and from other neurons. There are billions of neurons in the human brain, each with as many as a thousand threadlike branches that reach out to other neurons.


In a neuron, a message is an electrical impulse. The electrical message travels along the sending branch, or axon, of the neuron. When the message reaches the end of the axon, it causes the release of a chemical called a neurotransmitter. The chemical travels across a tiny gap, or synapse, to other neurons.


Specialized molecules called receptors on the receiving neuron pick up the chemical. The branches on the receiving end of a neuron are called dendrites. Receptors there have special shapes so they can only collect one kind of neurotransmitter.


In the dendrite, the neurotransmitter starts an electrical impulse. Its work done, the chemical is released back into the synapse. The neurotransmitter then is broken down or is reabsorbed into the sending neuron.


Neurons in your brain release many different neurotransmitters as you go about your day thinking, feeling, reacting, breathing, and digesting. When you learn new information or a new skill, your brain builds more axons and dendrites first, as a tree grows roots and branches. With more branches, neurons can communicate and send their messages more efficiently.


What Do Drugs Do to the Brain? Some drugs work in the brain because they have a similar size and shape as natural neurotransmitters. In the brain in the right amount or dose, these drugs lock into receptors and start an unnatural chain reaction of electrical charges, causing neurons to release large amounts of their own neurotransmitter.  Some drugs lock onto the neuron and act like a pump, so the neuron releases more neurotransmitter. Other drugs block re-absorption or re-uptake and cause unnatural floods of neurotransmitter.


All drugs of abuse, such as nicotine, cocaine, and marijuana, primarily affect the brain’s limbic system. Scientists call this the “reward” system. Normally, the limbic system responds to pleasurable experiences by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, which creates feelings of pleasure.


What Happens if Someone Keeps Using Drugs?  Think about how you feel when something good happens-maybe your team wins a game, you’re praised for something you’ve done well, or you drink a cold lemonade on a hot day-that’s your limbic system at work. Because natural pleasures in our lives are necessary for survival, the limbic system creates an appetite that drives you to seek those things.


The first time someone uses a drug of abuse, he or she experiences unnaturally intense feelings of pleasure. The limbic system is flooded with dopamine. Of course, drugs have other effects, too; a first-time smoker may also cough and feel nauseous from toxic chemicals in a tobacco or marijuana cigarette.


But the brain starts changing right away as a result of the unnatural flood of neurotransmitters. Because they sense more than enough dopamine, for example, neurons begin to reduce the number of dopamine receptors. Neurons may also make less dopamine. The result is less dopamine in the brain: This is called down regulation. Because some drugs are toxic, some neurons may also die.


How Many Times Does Someone Have To Take a Drug To Become an Addict? No one knows how many times a person can use a drug without changing his or her brain and becoming addicted.


A person’s genetic makeup probably plays a role. But after enough doses, an addicted teen’s limbic system craves the drug as it craves food, water, or friends. Without a dose of the drug, dopamine levels in the drug abuser’s brain are low. The abuser feels flat, lifeless, depressed. Without drugs, an abuser’s life seems joyless. Now the abuser needs drugs just to bring dopamine levels up to normal levels. Larger amounts of the drug are needed to create a dopamine flood or high, an effect known as tolerance.


By abusing drugs, the addicted teen has changed the way his or her brain works. Drug abuse and addiction lead to long-term changes in the brain. These changes cause addicted drug users to lose the ability to control their drug use. Drug addiction is a disease.


If Drug Addiction Is a Disease, Is There a Cure?  There is no cure for drug addiction, but it is a treatable disease; drug addicts can recover. Drug addiction therapy is a program of behavior change or modification that slowly retrains the brain. Like people with diabetes or heart disease, people in treatment for drug addiction learns behavioral changes and often take medications as part of their treatment regimen.






The marijuana: facts for teens report is submitted in a question and answer formant that should be helpful when communicating with youth.  It begins with basics questions and grows in complexity, as the subject matter becomes more challenging.



Q: What is marijuana? Are there different kinds?


A: Marijuana is a green, brown, or gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the hemp plant. You may hear marijuana called by street names such as pot, herb, weed, grass, boom, Mary Jane, gangster, or chronic. There are more than 200 slang terms for marijuana. Sinsemilla (sin-seh-me-yah) is a Spanish word for marijuana.  Hashish (hash for short), and hash oil are stronger forms of marijuana.


All forms of marijuana are mind-altering (psychoactive). In other words, they change how the brain works. They all contain THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active chemical in marijuana. They also contain more than 400 other chemicals. Marijuana effects on the user depend on its strength or potency, which is related to the amount of THC it contains. The THC content of marijuana has been increasing since the 1970s. For the year 2006, most marijuana contained, on average, 7 percent THC.


Most teenagers do not use marijuana. Fewer than one in five high school seniors is a current marijuana user.



Q: How is marijuana used?


A: Most users roll loose marijuana into a cigarette (called a joint or a nail) or smoke it in a pipe or a water pipe, sometimes referred to as a bong. Some users mix marijuana into foods or use it to brew a tea. Another method is to slice open a cigar and replace part of the tobacco with marijuana, making what is called a blunt. Marijuana cigarettes or blunts sometimes contain other substances as well including crack cocaine. I do not think its cool at all and I do not see why they try to pressure it on other people, from the videotape, Marijuana: What Can Parents Do?



Q: How long does marijuana stay in the users body?


A: THC in marijuana is rapidly absorbed by fatty tissues in various organs. Generally, traces (metabolites) of THC can be detected by standard urine testing methods several days after a smoking session. In heavy users, however, traces can sometimes be detected for weeks after they have stopped using marijuana.



Q: How many teens smoke marijuana?


A: Contrary to popular belief, most teenagers do not use marijuana. Among students surveyed in a yearly national survey, only about one in seven 10th graders report they are current marijuana users (that is, used marijuana within the past month). Fewer than one in five high school seniors is a current marijuana user.



Q: Why do young people use marijuana?


A: There are many reasons why some children and young teens start smoking marijuana. Many young people smoke marijuana because they see their brothers, sisters, friends, or even older family members using it. Some use marijuana because of peer pressure. Others may think its cool to use marijuana because they hear songs about it and see it on TV and in movies. Some teens may feel they need marijuana and other drugs to help them escape from problems at home, at school, or with friends. No matter how many shirts and caps you see printed with the marijuana leaf, or how many groups sing about it, remember this: You do not have to use marijuana just because you think everybody else is doing it. Most teenagers do not use marijuana.



Q: What happens if you smoke marijuana?


A: The way the drug affects each person depends on many factors, including:


        users previous experience with the drug;

        how strong the marijuana is (how much THC it has);

        what the user expects to happen;

         where the drug is used;

        how it is taken; and

        whether the user is drinking alcohol or using other drugs.


Some people feel nothing at all when they smoke marijuana. Others may feel relaxed or high. Sometimes marijuana makes users feel thirsty and very hungry an effect called the munchies. Some users can suffer bad reactions from abusing marijuana. They may experience sudden feelings of anxiety and paranoid thoughts. This is more likely to happen when a more potent variety of marijuana is used.


Marijuana can mess up your performance in school, sports, and other parts of your life.



Q: What are the short-term effects of marijuana use?


A: The short-term effects of marijuana include:

        Problems with memory and learning;

        Distorted perception (sights, sounds, time, touch);

        Trouble with thinking and problem-solving;

        Loss of motor coordination; and

        Increased heart rate.


I used to be real athletic. When I started using drugs, I just stopped playing all together,  because I thought I had more important things to do, from the videotape, Marijuana: What Can Parents Do? Effects can be unpredictable; especially when other drugs are combines with marijuana.




Q: Does marijuana affect school, sports, or other activities?


A: It can. Marijuana affects memory, judgment, and perception.

The drug can make you mess up in school, in sports or clubs, or with your friends. If you are high on marijuana, you are more likely to make mistakes that could embarrass or even hurt you. If you use marijuana a lot, you could start to lose interest in how you look and how your are getting along at school or work.  Athletes could find their performance is off; THC affects all timing, movements, and coordination. Also, since marijuana can affect judgment and decision-making, its use can lead to risky sexual behavior, resulting in exposure to sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.




Q: What are the long-term effects of marijuana use?


A: Findings so far show that regular use of marijuana may play

a role in some kinds of cancer and in problems with the respiratory and immune systems.


Cancer; Its hard to know for sure whether marijuana use alone causes cancer, because many people who smoke marijuana also smoke cigarettes and use other drugs. But it is known that marijuana smoke contains some of the same, and sometimes even more, of the cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke. Studies show that someone who smokes five joints per day may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes every day.


Lungs and airways; People who smoke marijuana often develop the same kinds of breathing problems that cigarette smokers have: coughing and wheezing. They tend to have more chest colds than nonusers. They are also at greater risk of getting lung infections like pneumonia.


Immune system; Our immune system protects the body from many agents that cause disease. It is not certain whether marijuana damages the immune system of people, but both animal and human studies have shown that marijuana impairs the ability of T-cells in the lungs’ immune system to fight off some infections.




Q: Does marijuana lead to the use of other drugs?


A: Long-term studies of high school students and their patterns of drug use show that very few young people use other illegal drugs without first trying marijuana. For example, the risk of using cocaine is much greater for those who have tried marijuana than for those who have never tried it. Using marijuana puts children and teens in contact with people who are users and sellers of other drugs. So there is more of a risk that a marijuana user will be exposed to and urged to try more drugs. To better determine this risk, scientists are examining the possibility that long-term marijuana use may create changes in the brain that make a person more at risk of becoming addicted to other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine. Although many young people who use marijuana do not go on to use other drugs, further research is needed to determine who will be at greatest risk.




Q: How can you tell if someone has been using marijuana?


A: If someone is high on marijuana, he or she might:

seem dizzy and have trouble walking;

seem silly and giggly for no reason;

have very red, bloodshot eyes; and

have a hard time remembering things that just happened.

When the early effects fade, over a few hours, the user can become very sleepy.




Q: Is marijuana sometimes used as a medicine?


A: There has been much talk about the possible medical use of

marijuana. Under U.S. law since 1970, marijuana has been a

Schedule I controlled substance. This means that the drug, at least in its smoked form, has no commonly accepted medical use.

THC, the active chemical in marijuana, is manufactured into a pill available by prescription that can be used to treat the nausea and vomiting that occur with certain cancer treatments and to help AIDS patients eat more to keep up their weight. Scientists are studying whether THC, and related chemicals in marijuana (called cannabinoids) may have other medical uses. Because of the adverse effects of smoking marijuana, research on other cannabinoids appears more promising for the development of new medications.




Q: How does marijuana affect driving?


A: Marijuana affects many skills required for safe driving: alertness, concentration, coordination, and reaction time.

Marijuana use can make it difficult to judge distances and react to signals and sounds on the road. Marijuana may play a role in motor vehicle crashes. In one study conducted in Memphis, TN, researchers found that, of 150 reckless drivers who were tested for drugs at the arrest scene, 33 percent tested positive for marijuana, and 12 percent tested positive for both marijuana and cocaine. Data have also shown that while smoking marijuana, people show the same lack of coordination on standard drunk driver tests as do people who have had too much to drink.


Marijuana and driving do not mix. Users often have delayed responses to sights and sounds drivers need to notice.




Q: If a woman is pregnant and smokes marijuana, will it hurt the baby?


A: Doctors advise pregnant women not to use any drugs because they could harm the growing fetus. Although one animal study linked marijuana use to loss of the fetus very early in pregnancy, two studies in humans found no association between marijuana use and early pregnancy loss. More research is necessary to fully understand the effects of marijuana use on pregnancy outcomes.

Studies in children born to mothers who use marijuana

have shown increased behavioral problems during infancy and preschool years. In school, these children are more likely to have problems with decision-making, memory, and the ability to remain attentive. Researchers are not certain whether health problems that may be caused by early exposure to marijuana will remain as the child grows into adulthood. However, since some parts of the brain continue to develop throughout adolescence, it is also possible that certain kinds of problems may appear as the child matures.

When I would sit down and try to figure something out it was like my brain would stop working from the videotape, Marijuana: What Can Parents Do?




Q: What does marijuana do to the brain?


A: Some studies show that when people have smoked large amounts of marijuana for years, the drug takes its toll on mental functions. Heavy or daily use of marijuana affects the parts of the brain that control memory, attention, and learning. A working short-term memory is needed to learn and perform tasks that call for more than one or two steps. Smoking marijuana causes some changes in the brain that are like those caused by cocaine, heroin, and alcohol.

Scientists are still learning about the many ways that marijuana can affect the brain.




Q: Can people become addicted to marijuana?


A: Yes. Long-term marijuana use leads to addiction in some

people. That is, they cannot control their urges to seek out and

use marijuana, even though it negatively affects their family relationships, school performance, and recreational activities.

According to one study, marijuana use by teenagers who have prior antisocial problems can quickly lead to addiction.

In addition, some frequent, heavy marijuana users develop tolerance to its effects. This means they need larger and larger amounts of marijuana to get the same desired effects as they used to get from smaller amounts.




Q: What if a person wants to quit using the drug?


A: In 2004, over 298,000 people entering drug treatment programs reported marijuana as their primary drug of abuse. However, up until a few years ago, it was hard to find treatment programs specifically for marijuana users. Now researchers are testing different ways to help marijuana users abstain from drug use. There are currently no medications for treating marijuana addiction. Treatment programs focus on counseling and group support systems. There are also a number of programs designed especially to help teenagers who are abusers. Family doctors can be a good source for information and help when dealing with marijuana problems.




For more information on marijuana and other drugs, visit the National

Institute on Drug Abuse Web site at or, or and/or contact:

National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information

P.O. Box 2345

Rockville, MD 20847


(The TDD number is