New data shows Indiana high school seniors are trying marijuana more often than alcohol and cigarettes. The information comes from the Indiana Youth Institute’s annual Kids Count report.
The data is worrisome to area health professionals, like Dr. Ahmed Elmaadawi, who says marijuana is mentally addictive.
“Cannabis, in general, works in an area of the brain that’s responsible for judgment and well-being. We actually know if you use marijuana for a long period of time, it affects your judgment [and] self-esteem. And longtime use of cannabis can actually cause psychosis,” said Dr. Elmaadawi, a child and adolescent psychiatrist.
Dr. Elmaadawi is concerned mainly for teen use. He says there is proven research marijuana can be healing to cancer patients and others suffering from chronic pain, but use for teens is dangerous. He says those who try the drug before age 18 are 67% more likely to continue using. The number drops to 27% for adults who try it for the first time.
“The pleasurable response is there. They want to have more to get that same feeling from the first time they used marijuana,” said Dr. Elmaadawi.
While health professionals are standing strong in the dangers, there is an overwhelming support for legalization at the national level. According to a Pew Research Poll, millennials are setting aside partisan politics with 77% of Democrats between ages 18-34 and 63% of Republicans agreeing laws that prohibit pot are outdated.
But, not all young people agree, including one local teen who struggled with abuse at an early age. The teen, called “John” for the purpose of this story, went to rehab at age 16. He started using pot at 13. His legal trouble started when he was caught on camera stealing from parked cars with a friend. Both were high and had a history of theft.
“There was an adrenaline part that didn’t make me worry about it. The money part is what made me do it, but the thrill is what didn’t make me afraid of it,” said John.
After his first arrest, John went to the Juvenile Justice Center (JJC) for 10 days. After his release, he started using synthetic marijuana. His mom caught him sometime later, called his parole officer, and he was again arrested. This time, John went to JJC for a month and rehab for 6 months.
“I stopped mainly because it was hurting a lot of the relationships I had, and I wanted to do stuff for myself. I knew if I wanted to go as far as I wanted to, I was going to get backtracked all the time if I smoked weed,” said John.
An arrest record and rehab aren’t enough for everyone. The Indiana Youth Institute (IYI) says while overall substance abuse is declining in terms of alcohol and cigarettes, marijuana use is increasing in teens.
“A big key to being successful to keeping our kids away from any illicit substance is open communication with their parents and other caring adults in their lives,” said Bill Stanczykiewicz, the President and CEO at IYI.
Dr. Elmaadawi and Stanczykiewicz agree there are mixed messages about marijuana legalization and the longtime effects. They agree open communication and community resources are key in helping teens make tough choices. Dr. Elmaadawi says there needs to be more education in schools in addition to collaboration between the resources in the community. Stanczykiewicz says teens are most influenced in their personal decision making by people they know directly.
“Kids benefit when they hear consistent messages about right and wrong from all of the caring adults in their lives. There’s no 100% guarantee that kids are going to make good choices, but what we are trying to do is increase the odds,” said Stanczykiewicz.