The following is a guest column by Marilyn G. Belmonte of the Burlington Drug & Alcohol Task Force:
This year, voters will be asked to decide the fate of marijuana in Massachusetts. There are two distinct sides on this topic. The PRO side is funded by a handful of billionaires who want marijuana to be the next big industry in our country. The CON side has little funding because prevention relies on grant money that has been cut back since 9/11. Money is important for a successful campaign. But for the voting process to be fair, every voter needs to know all the facts.
Teen Marijuana Use
The annual Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS), released in late April 2012, showed that past-month use of marijuana rose from 19 percent in 2008, to 27 percent in 2011. Nearly half of teens (47 percent) have used marijuana in their lifetime – a 21 percent increase since 2008. Nearly one in 10 teenagers smoke marijuana at least 20 times a month, an increase of 80% since 2008.
Since Massachusetts decriminalized marijuana in a 2008 ballot vote (the law took effect in January 2009), our state has seen a rise in youth marijuana rates. According to the 2011 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the lifetime use of marijuana (have you ever used marijuana?) and the current use (have you used marijuana in the past month?) has begun to increase again after many years of steady decline. This shows us that prevention efforts in Massachusetts were working until the vote to decriminalize marijuana.
Why are we seeing this rise in teen marijuana use? Surveys show that teen perception of harm from marijuana use has been dropping since states have begun legalizing marijuana for self-proclaimed medical use. The general perception is that medicines are safe, therefore if some states consider marijuana to be medicine, then marijuana must be safe.
Marijuana is a plant and thus natural versus man-made drugs in a laboratory. One of the drugs found in marijuana, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), makes people feel “high” when they smoke it. Some people believe that the THC in marijuana helps cancer patients deal with the nausea and loss of appetite caused by chemotherapy; helps relieve the pressure inside the eye caused by glaucoma; and relieves the pain of migraine headaches. But there has not been enough research yet to confirm if THC is responsible for easing symptoms, or another drug found in the plant.
Plants have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. But today the drugs are extracted from plants and made into medicine. Aspirin is derived from willow tree bark. When a doctor tells a patient to take two aspirin, the doctor is not recommending that the patient chew on tree bark.
Atropine, used for some heart problems, is made from the deadly nightshade plant. Codeine and morphine, prescribed for pain relief, are made from the opium poppy plant which also gives us heroin. Digitoxin, prescribed for heart problems, is made from the lovely foxglove plant which is poisonous if eaten. Pseudoephedrine for the relief of cold symptoms is made from ma-huang which causes heart attacks and stroke in high doses.
All of these drugs were extracted from plants then tested for their effectiveness, safety and dosage. Once properly tested, the drugs were formulated into medications that can be easily manufactured for consistency of quality and dosage. Marijuana has not yet been adequately tested like all other medicines in this country.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Official Medical Opinion on Marijuana
Marilyn Belmonte is a substance abuse prevention expert who founded Healthy Outcomes, Inc., a non-profit organization, to provide prevention services to all communities through grants and charitable donations. Marilyn is Co-Chairperson of the Drug and Alcohol Task Force in Burlington, Massachusetts. Her work has received national recognition from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for her innovative community programs in 2010 when she was awarded to the “National Service To Science Initiative”. She also received the “All Star Award” by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), makers of over-the-counter medications for educating parents about cough medicine abuse in 2008.