http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/images/size340/Marijuana_Credit_Wollertz_via_wwwshutterstockcom_CNA_12_18_15.jpgDenver, Colo., Dec 28, 2015 / 12:02 pm (CNA).- When Amendment 64 legalized the sale of recreational marijuana to anyone over the age of 21 in Colorado, Dr. Christopher Thurstone’s work became even more complex.
A child psychiatrist and medical director of one of Colorado’s largest youth substance abuse treatment clinics, he has seen first hand marijuana’s detrimental effect on young people.
And in the past two, post-legalization years, he’s noticed some concerning spikes: in number of patients, in levels of marijuana in their systems, and in marijuana addiction among his young patients.
“It’s made things much more difficult,” Dr. Thurstone told CNA. “Treatment is much more difficult than it used to be, just because the attitudes are more relaxed about marijuana use, and it’s so much more prevalent and easy to get.”
Currently, recreational marijuana is only available for purchase in three other states – Washington, Alaska and Oregon – and in Washington, D.C. But with the 2016 elections on the horizon, both medical and recreational marijuana bills will be showing up on ballots in states across the country, most of whom are looking to places like Colorado to determine best practices.
While the legalization of marijuana brings with it some economic benefits, many professionals who work with young people are concerned the increasing acceptance of marijuana and the minimizing of the risks and negative side effects of the drug.
The shifting perceptions of pot
As the social acceptance of marijuana increases, the laws change to reflect those attitudes, and vice versa. The legalization of marijuana is both a reflection of and a catalyst for more accepting attitudes toward marijuana.
As the perceived harmfulness of marijuana falls among teens, use goes up – or, at the very least, remains stable. A recent survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that for the first time ever, daily marijuana use has surpassed daily cigarette use among high school seniors.
In an interview with The Atlantic, the NIDA director Nora Volkow said that on the one hand, the findings prove the success of anti-tobacco campaigns that target adolescents.
On the other hand, the growing acceptance of pot among adolescents is concerning, especially given its impact on the developing brain, she said.
We’re seeing teenagers who are telling me, ‘Why would I stop using marijuana? I don’t believe it’s addictive, I don’t believe it has any bad effects, in fact it’s my medicine for my anger, depression, anxiety or ADHD.’
Dr. Thurstone has also found that teens today are more accepting of pot – a shift that began with the legalization of medical marijuana and was further solidified by the green light on recreational marijuana.
“Pre-legalization about 54 percent of 12-17 year-olds in Colorado reported great harm with regular marijuana use, and now post-legalization that’s dropped to about 34 percent,” he said.
“We’re clearly seeing a significant decrease in the perceived harmfulness of marijuana, especially among young people.”