Smoking Cannabis Worsens Kids’ School Grades: Study

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disease that changes the normal, healthy functioning of the brain apart from causing other harmful consequences. Marijuana or cannabis is the most commonly abused illegal drug in the United States, with most people using it for the first time in their teens.

As marijuana impairs the brain’s ability to form new memories, it can affect the brain system of young adults that is still maturing. A regular use of marijuana by teenagers is associated with an altered reward system, increasing the likelihood that the person will get addicted to other drugs such as heroin, when given an opportunity. Other symptoms of cannabis abuse include rapid heartbeat, disorientation, and lack of physical coordination, often followed by depression or sleepiness.

According to a 2015 report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), illicit drug use in the U.S. has been consistently increasing. In a 2013 survey, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older (9.4 percent of the population) were found to use an illicit drug in a month prior to the survey. In 2013, there were just over 2.8 million new users of illicit drugs, or about 7,800 new users per day.

Effect of cannabis on brain

A 2015 study, led by Dr. Amelia Arria, associate professor of behavioral and community health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, suggests smoking cannabis in teens is linked with serious brain abnormalities, which can also affect their grades in school. Smoking marijuana by kids leads to lower intelligence and poorer focus, leading to lower grades and dropping out of high school.

Students who smoke marijuana have lower attention span and memory, and thus they may not be functioning at their best in schools and colleges, the study said. The effect of the drug can last for days or weeks, so students tend to skip more lectures and tutorials, with studies taking a backseat. Notably, those who didn’t attend lectures regularly got lower grades and even graduated later than those who attended.

The researchers observed 1,100 students from the University of Maryland for eight years, starting from their first year of university. In the first year, 37 percent students were reportedly found to smoke marijuana at least once in the past 30 days – six days of the month on an average. Unsurprisingly, the students appeared to skip lectures more often with significant rise in marijuana abuse, in turn leading to lower grades and a longer time to graduate. On the contrary, their grades tended to pick up with a reduction in cannabis use.

“When students go to an academic assistance office, rarely does anyone ask them about alcohol or drug use,” said Dr. Arria. “Students often see marijuana as benign. But if you ask them questions like, “How often are you smoking marijuana, drinking, partying?” that alone may help them be more self-reflective and make better choices,” she added.

In the study, published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, the researchers suggested the link between taking the drug and missing lectures must be well understood by students, parents, universities and policymakers.

Path to recovery

A teen who abuses cannabis for a longer period is likely to experience various problems, including lower school grades, because the drug can alter the normal functioning of the brain. Aggression is also almost a definite byproduct of prolonged drug abuse. Hallucination is a common phenomenon for those under the influence of drugs, and in extreme cases suicidal thoughts also may occur.

Heroin Addiction is a Scourge for America

Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled in the United States, and more than 8,200 people died in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC cites heroin as an “illegal, highly addictive opioid drug.” Its overdose can lead to slow and shallow breathing, coma, and death.

It is a common practice with people to use heroin along with other drugs or alcohol. This is a dangerous proposition because it increases the chances of an overdose manifold. Usually, heroin is injected, but people also smoke or snort it at times.

“When people inject heroin, they are at risk of serious, long-term viral infections such as HIV, Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis B, as well as bacterial infections of the skin, bloodstream, and heart,” says the CDC.

Not only in renowned rehabs like the drug rehab centers, but heroin addicts are a regular feature among patients in treatment centers even in a remote borough. It is because, according to a January 2016 article published on cnn.com, “Heroin use has skyrocketed in rural parts of the United States in the past several years, triggered by the widespread availability of cheap forms of the drug — often times cheaper than black-market prescription painkillers.”

Fight against addiction tops government priorities

President Barack Obama has been trying to address the issue by publicly talking about the efforts his government has been making to tackle the menace of heroin and prescription drug abuse. In his final State of the Union Address in January, Obama said, “… I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low. But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families. So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse. So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again.”

Referring to the epidemic of prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction, at the beginning of his speech, speaks volumes about the emphasis the federal government lays on the issue. President Obama kept his word while presenting his last annual budget in February as he proposed to make a provision for $1 billion to address the prescription drug and heroin overdose epidemic.

“More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle crashes. The Budget takes a two-pronged approach to address this epidemic. First, it includes $1 billion in new mandatory funding over two years to expand access to treatment for prescription drug abuse and heroin use and help ensure that every American who wants treatment can access it and get the help they need. Second, it includes funding to continue and increase current efforts to expand State-level prescription drug overdose prevention strategies, increase the availability of medication-assisted treatment programs, improve access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, and support targeted enforcement activities,” he said.

Who are at risk?

Heroin abuse in the country has reached a dismal level which calls for drastic measures to counter the ill effects. The CDC identifies the following at a higher risk of getting addicted to heroin:

People who are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers
People who are addicted to cocaine
People without insurance or enrolled in Medicaid
Non-Hispanic whites
Males
People who are addicted to marijuana and alcohol
People living in a large metropolitan area
18 to 25-year-olds

It is time to get the ball rolling

Appointment of agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack to head a probe investigating ailments plaguing rural America, shows that the state is tightening the noose to stop this heroin epidemic. But everybody has a role to play in stopping the rapidly growing prescription drug and heroin epidemic. Renowned rehab facilities like the drug rehabilitation centers should also come out to lend their support to this endeavor.

Prescription Drug Abuse in Adolescents

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 52 million Americans use prescription drugs for non-medical reasons at least once in their life. Every day, approximately 44 Americans die from prescription painkiller overdoses. Thus, it is an alarming scenario with prescription painkillers causing more than 16,000 deaths and 475,000 emergency room visits annually. No wonder, the prescription drug abuse helpline numbers never stop ringing.

It is more terrifying when it comes to adolescents. Being young with impressionable minds, they are more susceptible to fall prey to prescription drug abuse. Seeking prescription drug addiction treatment help remains the only solution in such a situation.

According to the National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention, one out of every five teens in the U.S. abuse prescription drugs to get high. Almost half of them who have abused prescription painkillers also report abusing two or more drugs, including marijuana. They are also likely to abuse alcohol. Children reportedly do not feel any guilt pangs, because the drugs aren’t illegal and are also not shamed because they are not abusing illicit drugs, just prescription medicines. Adolescents abusing prescription drugs without any sign of inhibition is a dangerous trend.

As per a study titled “Psychotropic Medication Use among Adolescents: United States, 2005-2010,” about 6.3 percent U.S. adolescents reported any type of psychotropic medication use in the past month, during the period 2005-2010. The study, conducted by Bruce S. Jonas, Sc.M., Ph.D., Qiuping Gu, M.D., Ph.D. and Juan R. Albertorio-Diaz, M.A., has summed the findings as below:

The highest abuse seen is of antidepressants (3.2 percent) and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) drugs (3.2 percent). They are followed by antipsychotics (1 percent); anxiolytics, sedatives, and hypnotics (0.5 percent); and antimanics (0.2 percent).
Males (4.2 percent) are more likely to use ADHD drugs as compared to females (2.2 percent), and females (4.5%) are more likely than males (2 percent) to use antidepressants.
The use of psychotropic drug was higher among non-Hispanic white (8.2 percent) adolescents than non-Hispanic black (3.1 percent) and Mexican-American (2.9 percent) adolescents.
Approximately half of the U.S. adolescents using psychotropic drugs in the past month had seen a mental health professional in the past year (53.3 percent).

Adolescents and prescription drugs

According to a 2008 report of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 64 percent of the youth aged 12 to 17 who have abused pain relievers said they got the medicines from friends or relatives, often without the other person’s knowledge. Very few of them said that they procured prescription medicines from the internet.

However, they engaged in online chat and gathered information about drugs and others’ experiences. Another potential place to obtain prescription drugs is their respective schools. Rampant exchange of medicines and trade flourish in the corridors.

Ways to check abuse

The study feels that prescription drug abuse in adolescents should be taken seriously like any other abuse. Parents and caregivers have a significant role to play in curbing this menace. Since a school is a fertile spot for procuring prescription drugs, authorities have a pivotal role in addressing it. Regular seminars and inviting guest speakers to talk on the dangers of this can help in reducing this threat.

Government agencies should also exert their influence and work towards eradicating abuse of prescription drugs. Introducing stringent laws, implementing reforms and educating the people at large will go a long way.

Even physicians should play their part. Keeping detailed records of patients, educating parents about any drugs prescribed to their children and enquiring about their patients’ past abuses will also help in preventing this malady.