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Teenage cigarette and alcohol abuse has declined, but only to make way for a growing trend: marijuana use among high school students.

Today, teenagers are more drawn to marijuana than cigarettes or alcohol, according to a study granted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The survey found that more than one-third of high school seniors smoked pot (within the past year), but tobacco use has declined to about 10 percent of 12th graders.

With its recent legalization in Colorado and Washington, marijuana is not as taboo as harder drugs. It’s accepted in pop culture and often among parents who admit to smoking pot in the past. However, this is not the same drug from the 1960s – it’s more potent, more addictive and more dangerous.

The Drug That Has Doubled In Danger

The New York Times reports, “The mean concentration of THC, the psychoactive ingredient, in confiscated cannabis more than doubled between 1993 and 2008.” This ingredient makes pot more addictive and leads to more accidents under the influence.

NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow said, “It’s much more potent marijuana, which may explain why we’ve seen a pretty dramatic increase in admission to emergency rooms and treatment programs for marijuana.”

Marijuana Damages Developing Brains  

The NIDA study shows that while the rate of marijuana use has risen, the perceived risk of harm associated with marijuana use has lowered. According to the survey, “only 41.7 percent of eighth graders see occasional use of marijuana as harmful; 66.9 percent see regular use as harmful.”

This is a misconception marijuana is extremely harmful to teenagers. Risks include:

Damage to cognitive development: The New York Times reports, "The most disturbing new studies about early teenage use of marijuana showed that young adults who started smoking pot regularly before they were 16 performed significantly worse on cognitive tests of brain function than those who had started smoking later in adolescence."

The article continues, “A more recent study found that people who started smoking marijuana as teenagers and used it heavily for decades lost IQ points over time, while those who started smoking as adults did not.”

Damage to heart and lungs: Smoking pot increases the heart rate by 20-100 percent. A NIDA report concluded that, “marijuana users have a 4.8-fold increase in the risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking the drug.”

Although research has shown tobacco to be more harmful to the lungs, marijuana has been linked to the same symptoms as tobacco smoke: increase in phlegm production, chronic cough and lung infections.

Short-Term High, Long-Term Risk

Teenagers perceive pot as a casual party drug, but it comes with real consequences.

This summer, a Round Rock teenager was charged with a first-degree felony for making and selling hash brownies. He faces five years to life in prison because he made the brownies with hash oil instead of marijuana. This allows officials to count the entire weight of the brownies, about 1.5 pounds, in sentencing the teenager.

Marijuana has earned the name “the gateway drug” for a reason; it has been linked to other dangerous addictions. Lake Highland resident Stephen Cripe, who died of a heroin overdose in April of 2012, started smoking pot to cope with his father’s death. This led to a heroin addiction that took Cripe’s life when he was 24 years old.

Now, the Stephen Cripe Foundation helps recovering drug addicts find a new life after rehab. The foundation provides necessities so that people can rebuild a new life without the risk of relapsing.

Stop Smoking Before It Becomes An Addiction

Due to higher levels of the psychoactive ingredient THC, marijuana is more addictive than it was years ago. Dr. Volkow says one in six teenagers is addicted to pot. And the number is growing.

Although marijuana is not known for its withdrawal symptoms, the effects can be painful. Symptoms include:

Moodiness

Sleeplessness

Loss of appetite

Anxiety

Teenagers also struggle to quit the habit because once they’ve given up marijuana, they are forced to cope with life. They’re accustomed to ignoring the issues associated with adolescence and escaping by smoking marijuana.

Change The Way You Perceive The Drug

The first step in combatting marijuana use is to take the drug seriously. Even if it is allowed in certain states, users must be at least 21 years old. Smoking pot may be common among teenagers, but it is more dangerous for them than any other user.

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