‘This isn’t your parents’ marijuana,” was the message passed on by speakers at a marijuana forum sponsored by the AHM Youth and Family Services Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force, held Feb. 12 in the RHAM High School auditorium. The first speaker at the forum, Alicia Farrell, Ph.D., is a cognitive psychologist and owner of Clearview Consulting.


Three years ago, said Farrell, she started to notice a shift in the demographics of her clients. They were younger, said Farrell, “and these were kids that were floundering.” These kids shared many characteristics, said Farrell. They were disengaged, unmotivated, showed a lack of persistence or willingness to hang in to get tasks accomplished. And many of these clients, said Farrell, were regular pot smokers.


Farrell said that marijuana is much more potent today than it was when the parents of today’s teens were going to school. In the 1970s, she said, pot contained approximately 1 percent THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. By 1985, that number had risen to 3.5 percent. Today’s marijuana contains, on average, an 8.8 percent concentration of THC, “and some has been found to have concentrations as high as 32 percent,” said Farrell. “This is not the drug that we knew of when we were their age,” said Farrell.


Many of her clients had starting smoking pot in middle school, said Farrell, and both they and their parents were often under the impression that the drug was not the origin of their problems. But Farrell disagreed. Marijuana is addictive, she said, with 1 in 6 adolescents becoming addicted, compared to 1 in 9 adults. Smoking pot significantly increases the risk of using other drugs, serving as a gateway to even more addictive drugs such as heroin. Farrell pointed out that today, heroin is cheap in comparison to pot, making it an attractive alternative to those who have become addicted but can no longer afford the price tag of marijuana. Marijuana affects brain development, said Farrell, resulting in up to a six-point drop in IQ. Researchers currently believe this drop is permanent, she said. What’s more, one study has shown that even light, recreational use can result in changes in brain anatomy, with changes increasing with increased usage of the drug.


“This drug is causing damage to our children’s brains,” said Farrell.


Marijuana is worse for the lungs than cigarettes, according to a handout that Farrell provided, containing 50 percent more carcinogens and resulting in greater tar deposits. “One joint has a similar effect to airflow obstruction of up to five cigarettes,” reads the handout. Marijuana increases the risk of having other psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, according to the handout, and can increase the heart rate for two to three hours, making it dangerous for those with heart conditions. Marijuana can mask and/or cause other issues such as anxiety, depression, anger, low self-esteem, sleep disturbances, lack of motivation, lack of interest, academic performance, etc., and rob kids of the opportunity to develop life skills such as resilience and persistence within adversity, said Farrell. And marijuana doubles the risk of an automobile accident.


“Recovery from an addiction to marijuana is complicated,” said Farrell. For all of these reasons and more, Farrell felt that “we, as parents, should have a no-drug policy with our teens.”


A 22-year-old named Becca spoke after Farrell, sharing her experiences with entering recovery at the age of 16. Today holding a BA in forensic psychology, Becca was in the sixth grade when she first started using marijuana. Walking into the school lunch room, she said, “was the most stressful part of my day.” A little bit of pot, alcohol, or both, “and all of a sudden I was the life of the party,” said Becca. Without her crutch, the young teen felt that she couldn’t navigate the social pitfalls of middle and high school. By the time she was 16, she was addicted to heroin.


“If I could say one thing to parents, the most important thing for me would have been to have validation,” said Becca. Teenagers are beset by feelings of doubt and often questioning their own self-worth, she said. “High school kids need a lot of support,” said Becca.


Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney Francis Carino also spoke at the forum, spelling out the legal ramifications of marijuana usage.


Farrell offered several guidelines for parents: educate yourself and your kids; set expectations and consequences (zero-tolerance policy for drugs); follow through; look for signs and monitor technology; know your kids’ friends and their families; if your child is already involved, intervene now; have family dinners.


“Remember, a child who reaches age 21 without using illegal drugs, abusing alcohol or smoking is most likely never to do so,” said Farrell.


Source:  http://www.courant.com/reminder-news/hebron-edition   16th Feb 2015