Voters in five states will decide this Election Day whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana — and recent polls suggest they may.
Fifty-seven percent of U.S. adults today say marijuana should be made legal, compared to 37 percent who remain opposed. A decade ago, the opinion on legalizing marijuana was nearly the reverse — just 32 percent favored legalization, while 60 percent were opposed, a Pew Research Center study revealed earlier this month.
The earlier the introduction and the more frequent the marijuana use, the more damage is potentially done to the brain.
The major shift in public opinion comes as advocates continue push for legalization of both medicinal and recreational use, and as states relax restrictions on the drug or legalize it altogether.
The reality, however, is that people are going to smoke weed whether it’s legal or illegal, according to Richard Taite, founder and CEO of Cliffside Malibu, an evidence-based treatment center in Los Angeles. And because the drugs that people use and abuse tend to be based largely on social norms — not legal status — parents in particular have some things to think about as they head to the polls on Nov. 8.
1.) Addiction is more likely the younger a child starts using.
“Neuroscientists are very clear about the negative impact that early marijuana use has on the brain,” said Taite. “The brain doesn’t fully mature until around the age of 25, but we know that most people who start using marijuana are introduced to it in their teens. The earlier that introduction and the more frequent the marijuana use, the more damage is potentially done to the brain.”
2.) The consequences of early substance abuse may be irreversible.
Abusing marijuana at an early age “is a game of Russian roulette,” he said — especially since marijuana is much stronger now than it was 50 years ago.
“We’ve all seen people who’ve smoked way too much weed for way too long and the kind of burnout that creates in the brain,” Taite told LifeZette. “The younger your kids are when they start smoking marijuana, the more likely that kind of damage is. No one wants that for another person. I certainly don’t want it for my kids.”
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3.) We have to tell young people the truth.
It’s better to talk openly with your children about the risks of using any sort of substance — alcohol and tobacco included, Taite believes. When it comes to marijuana specifically, Taite states on his website that kids need to know that marijuana “makes you unable to safely drive a motor vehicle and impairs decision-making, leaving the user open to being taken advantage of by others or making life-changing choices with devastating outcomes.” And when used with any regularity, it also impairs brain function, diminishing opportunities to live a full and meaningful life.
All substances that are abused or have the potential for abuse can cause damage, Taite said. “Tobacco and alcohol use cost the nation hundreds of billions of dollars. We have untold suffering in families who, because of these substances, have to deal with lifelong illnesses, disabilities, premature death, and other tragic consequences. Sugar, which no one would consider making illegal, can be linked to our epidemic of obesity and billions of dollars of health-related outlays. Marijuana is like these other substances — and that’s the case whether it is legal or illegal to use.”
Just under half of high school seniors currently report having used marijuana at least once in their lives. About 15 percent of eighth-graders have at least tried marijuana. The issue, though, is their perceptions of the drug, Taite said. Students don’t perceive the harm in using marijuana.