Marijuana is a popular drug in the United States, indicative by the fact that it is the most used illicit narcotic in this country. As of late, discussions about drugs have been geared towards prescription opioids and heroin—in light of the ongoing epidemic. Yet, it is worth keeping in mind that while marijuana is a far cry from opioids, it is still a drug that can have negative effects on one’s health and lead to addiction. The demographic of greatest concern is young people, especially adolescents.
In the science community, it is widely held that teenage cannabis use can have a serious impact on the brain. This is due to the fact that the brain of adolescents is still developing. While preventing teens from using cannabis is a top concern, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that in the last year, marijuana was used by:
- Roughly 6.5 Percent of Eighth-Graders
- 14.8 percent of 10th-Graders
- 21.3 Percent of 12th-Graders
NIDA’s findings indicate that cannabis prevention measures need to start much earlier. But when? A team of researchers from the University of Florida (UF) took it upon themselves to pinpoint when teens are most like to begin using cannabis, MNT reports. Their findings could increase the success of preventative measures in the future. The research was published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
The findings of the study, led by Dr. Xinguang Chen, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at UF, showed that adolescents are at risk of initiating cannabis use by the age of 11, according to the article. The risk of using cannabis peaks at the age of 16. The researchers determined those ages by looking at data from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The survey involved 26,659 adolescents and young adults—ages 12 to 21.
“Our findings demonstrate the need to start drug education much earlier, in the fourth or fifth grade,” said Dr. Xinguang Chen. “This gives us an opportunity to make a preemptive strike before they actually start using marijuana.”
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Marijuana is commonly referred to as the ‘gateway drug,’ that is the drug that people try first before moving on to experiment with harder drugs. It has been an argument that many who are against marijuana legalization have used in defense of their stance. While it may be true that most people who progress to drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, have used marijuana at one time or another, it does not mean that it should be branded the gateway drug. In fact, new research points to another substance, one that is far more pervasive and legal than marijuana, The Washington Post reports. If you were thinking alcohol, then you would be correct.
Researchers from Texas A&M and the University of Florida analyzed Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey data from 2,800 U.S. 12th graders, according to the article. The findings indicated that “the vast majority of respondents reported using alcohol prior to either tobacco or marijuana initiation.” The researchers point out that teenagers were the least likely to smoke marijuana before using alcohol or cigarettes.
Alcohol is legal throughout the United States, and while the substance is generally considered to be somehow different than other mind altering substances, the fact of the matter is that alcohol is an addictive drug – one that can produce equal amounts of hardship for the individuals who imbibe. The researchers concluded:
“Alcohol was the most widely used substance among respondents, initiated earliest, and also the first substance most commonly used in the progression of substance use.”
Determining which addictive substance that teens use first is important, but the researchers point out that when people start using may be even more important. They found adolescents who drank for the first time in the 6th or 7th grade would then use on average nearly two illegal drugs later, the article reports. The researchers write:
“Overall, early onset substance initiation, whether that is alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs, exerts a powerful influence over future health risk behaviors.”
The findings were published in the Journal of School Health.
The rate of overdose deaths in this country is staggering, opioid addiction has touched practically every demographic – a problem which is expected to get worse before it gets better. The federal government, along with local lawmakers and health officials, has had to face the problem head on. Developing new plans and strategies to save lives in what could only be described as an uphill battle. In recent years, access to the life saving opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone has increased. The drug, also known as Narcan, is now in the hands of first responders and the loved ones of opioid addicts in many states. Greater naloxone access has saved thousands of lives – a miracle drug by anyone’s standards.
It is sad fact that many teenagers will overdose on prescription opioids or heroin, potentially losing their lives. Fortunately, a number of states have equipped high school nurses with the life saving drug, NPR reports.
School nurses have naloxone on hand in:
- New York
The state of New York altered its laws and allocated $272,000 in the budget this year, giving school nurses access to naloxone, according to the article. In the past, nurses had to call paramedics in the event of an overdose; naturally, when it comes to overdoses, time is of the essence. When nurses have naloxone in their tool belt, there is a greater chance of saving a life.
While it may seem logical to have naloxone on hand at schools, there are some administrators who are reluctant to use naloxone at school for fear of being liable, the article points out. However, under the law nurses are protected from liability, if they act in good faith – making it difficult to file suit.
“Some districts might, nevertheless, fear that they would have to defend this type of lawsuit, even if, ultimately, they were successful,” said Jay Worona, General Counsel for the New York State School Boards Association.
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