Marijuana debate could be sending mixed signals to teens

May 17, 2011

By Laura Geggel

As the debate about medical marijuana progresses, it could be sending mixed messages to youths, shaping their thoughts about the still-illegal substance.

Attitudes among local students are changing about the use of marijuana. Contributed

“Across the board, our counselors are reporting a change in attitude toward marijuana,” Youth Eastside Services Executive Director Patti Skelton-McGougan said. “Teens are seeing pot as less dangerous because of its potential medicinal properties.”

YES counselors are working to educate youths about marijuana, including information showing it is addictive, is often a gateway drug, and can lead to lower school performance and illness.

Nationally, the number of middle and high school students experimenting with the drug is at its highest since the 1980s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

In the Issaquah School District, data only goes back to 2004, when the district began administering the state’s Healthy Youth Survey.

In 2004, more students, on average, reported “that adults in their neighborhoods think youth marijuana use is ‘very wrong,’” compared to reports from 2010.

In 2004, 70 percent of sophomores and 58 percent of seniors said they thought their neighbors looked down on youths using marijuana.

In 2010, 62 percent of sophomores and 48 percent of seniors replied yes to that same question.

The number of district students reporting that they use marijuana has not increased as much.

One question on the Healthy Youth Survey asks students if they have ever smoked marijuana.

In 2004, 19 percent of sophomores and 39 percent of seniors reported yes, they had smoked marijuana. In 2010, 21 percent of sophomores and 44 percent of seniors reported yes, a slight increase from 2004.

Each Healthy Youth Survey has a 3 percent margin of error, meaning any percentage change less than 3 percent is not significant.

Educating youth about marijuana

A number of Eastside nonprofit organizations, physicians and school counselors are reaching out to teenagers, helping them learn more about marijuana and how to stop using it.

First, counselors help youths reframe their view on marijuana. If a teenager calls it an herb, they should be told, “So is arsenic,” Nobel Erickson, a certified chemical dependency professional and a mental health counselor, said. “Just because something grows out of the ground doesn’t mean it’s safe.”

The main chemical in cannabis that gets people high is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a chemical that heightens awareness, provides a feeling of relaxation, decreases anxiety and stimulates the appetite.

“When you’re not on it, regular life feels really boring,” Erickson said.

People who chronically use marijuana might see it decrease both their ability to learn and their memory, according to the national institute.

In the 1960s, cannabis had a THC concentration of between 0.5 and 3.0 percent. Now, most cannabis has between 15 percent and 20 percent THC.

“On average, we’re talking about a difference of one beer versus eight beers,” Erickson said.

Research shows that marijuana is addictive, more so for youths. On average, about 9 percent up to 17 percent of young people become addicted and about 20 percent of daily users become addicted, reported the national institute.

Along with addiction comes illness. Marijuana smokers have higher incidences of chest colds, bronchitis, emphysema, bronchial asthma and certain types of cancers, such as lung cancer, Friends of Youth Director of Community Treatment Services Paula Frederick said.

But, with the medical marijuana debate, some of the negative side effects are not as widely discussed.

“What is easy for adults to forget is that when we are adolescents, most of our influences come from what we’re seeing,” Erickson said. “Our teen brains are learning about social norms, social cues.”

Stop the smoking

Teenagers can get help from several nonprofit organizations, but often they are referred to agencies after a parent, school employee or police officer has caught them in the act.

The first step is to ask the youth to be honest and think about the ways marijuana is affecting his or her life.

“How is it affecting them psychologically, how is it affecting them socially,” Erickson asked.

She encourages teens to make healthy choices, and connects them with classes, support groups or individual counseling, anything that will help them learn the facts and make positive changes in their lives.

Youths may use marijuana to self medicate, or because they are bored. If they stop smoking, it can be hard to stay off the drug.

“Stress is probably the No. 1 reason I know why kids continue to use or relapse,” Erickson said. “We are helping kids to recognize when they are stressed, which oddly enough is not an instinctual thing.”

Erickson will help her client think of other ways to deal with stress, and “within 10 minutes I’ve filled up an entire white board,” she said.

Sometimes, people experience withdrawal symptoms within a month after they stop using marijuana, including sleep and appetite disturbances, irritability, depression and cravings.

Some of her clients started using marijuana in middle school, and many students begin between eighth and 10th grade. In the 2010 Healthy Youth Survey, 7 percent of district eighth-graders and 21 percent of sophomores report having used marijuana in their lifetimes, showing the jump between middle and high school.

Teenagers older than 13 can seek help with a counselor without notifying their parents, though counselors often encourage teens to engage their parents so they will have more support.

Many services charge on a sliding scale, and usually insurance will cover a visit, Erickson said.

Get involved

Drug problem? Call Friends of Youth at 392-6367 or Youth Eastside Services at 747-4937.

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or Comment at

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17 Responses to “Marijuana debate could be sending mixed signals to teens”

  1. scott on May 17th, 2011 6:57 pm

    “First, counselors help youths reframe their view on marijuana. If a teenager calls it an herb, they should be told, “So is arsenic,” Nobel Erickson, a certified chemical dependency professional and a mental health counselor, said. “Just because something grows out of the ground doesn’t mean it’s safe.”

    Is this a joke? Seriously Arsenic is a chemical… its not a plant. Arsenic might be contained in plants that have leached it out of the soil, but it is not living organism.
    There are a number of inaccuracies in this article, but this was the most amusing.

  2. Jeremiah Cummings on May 17th, 2011 9:18 pm

    But isn’t marijuana safer than alcohol? I’m not saying that kids in school should be smoking, but the comparison of one beer and eight beers is kinda retarded without an entire discussion of the dangers of alcohol being greater than those of marijuana. The comparison should be more like one teaspoon of beer vs. eight teaspoons of beer if you want a more balanced comparison. Kids should know that marijuana is safer than alcohol.

  3. Cris on May 18th, 2011 1:03 am

    This whole story needs one big [citation needed]! A lot of this article is just rubbish that has long been disproven by serious research. There is so much clinical research in the last 10 years (don’t go back to the 80’s, a lot of that research is flawed and obsolete. The endocannabinoid system hadn’t even been discovered then) that refutes this. I challenge thinking people to actually do their own research of the relevant papers and come to their own conclusions. There is a *real reason* it is now being used medicinally. Maybe the youth, lacking prior generations prejudices, just get it.

  4. EgadsNo on May 18th, 2011 4:56 am

    “is often a gateway drug, and can lead to lower school performance and illness.”

    Its either a gateway drug or it is not- and name one other drug that works on the same receptor system to begin with? Furthermore plenty of evidence shows marijuana is one of the best compounds available for breaking addiction to other drugs.

    You will not find one study that says it lowers school performance, you can find plenty that will associate it. You can also find plenty that associate it with the opposite. This is rhetoric and fear rolled into a spin.

    Notice how “People who chronically use marijuana might see it decrease both their ability to learn and their memory, according to the national institute.” says “MIGHT” because it is an association, depression is the number one cause of employment and school issues- depressed people are far more likely to self medicate- thus an ASSOCIATION is formed.

    I would bet my bottom dollar that whoever wrote this drivel has connections to the 25.6 billion dollars handed out for drug prevention by our national Drug Control Policy.

    Kids should be getting a mixed message when for the past 100 years we have shoved lies down their throats.

  5. Jay on May 18th, 2011 10:47 am

    Dear Issaquah press,

    I’m writing from Canada with a couple observations on your article. First off the suggestion that smoking marijuana can cause lung was a fear ling put to bed, or so I thought. I’ve read numerous studies from reputable institutes that show that recreational users of pot are less likely to get lung cancer than someone who doesn’t smoke anything at all.

    I feel like inadvertently or not media keeps portraying pot negatively and in an unflattering fashion. The picture of the man smoking who has a touque on, earings, sunglasses looking like a general punk is not what the average cannabis user looks like. I know many professionals, my friends know many as well, doctors, business people even people in politics who light up frequently.

    My point is that it’s, at least here in Canada, becoming very socially acceptable. The real gateway drug is alcohol. I smoke weed regularly and as a consequence i don’t drink much anymore. I feel like alcohol affects my judgement and demeanor too strongly. Marijuana has continually been proven scientifically to be less intoxicating, less addictive and less harmful than alcohol. Yet we don’t question the legality of alcohol anymore.

    I believe that journalistically we have to see both sides of a story, so I appreciate your article. I just hope that your media also portrays marijuana in the positive light it deserves as well. People need to be educated and as studies and popular opinion show, grouping something less dangerous than alcohol in with actual dangerous narcotics is potentially very detrimental to the health and attitudes of our youth. After all that’s what this article is all about. If we want our youth safe then let’s give them the accurate information. We live in the transparent age of the Internet. Those that want the real facts about pot can sift the web and find the facts, but ins easier if we help them along and teach them whatcha really harmful and what is not.

    Thank you for your time. I apoligize for any spelling mistakes in this article, I’m writing from my iPhone as I am traveling.



  6. Clifford Schaffer on May 18th, 2011 4:41 pm

    So arsenic is an herb? For the sake of those who missed basic classes in school, arsenic is a heavy metal – like lead. It doesn’t grow on trees.

    This is really a facepalm-level dumb statement. Pardon me while I go water my gold and silver bushes.

    How do you instantly know when someone is not telling the truth about marijuana? When they tell you that today’s marijuana is X times stronger than it was in the 1960s.

    How do you instantly know that is a lie? Because the means to test the potency of marijuana didn’t even exist until the 1970s. The lies the prohibitionists invent are just bald-faced shameless.

    As for the “gateway” idea, it was started during the hearings for the Boggs Act in 1951, and was invented by Harry Anslinger, then head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Mr. Anslinger was up before Congress, asking for more money to enforce the marijuana laws. Unfortunately for him, just before he spoke, the head of the Federal addiction research program testified that they knew for certain that all of the reasons that had been given to outlaw marijuana in 1937 were completely wrong. It didn’t do any of the things that had been alleged. It didn’t have a terrible effect on the “degenerate races”, it didn’t cause insane violence, and it didn’t make young lovers go crazy and elope.

    Anslinger was left with no justification for his request for more money. Indeed, he was left with no justification for the marijuana laws at all. In response, he made up the idea that marijuana is the “certain stepping stone” to heroin. In doing so, he contradicted all the research at the time, as well as his own testimony from 1937.

  7. Spook on May 18th, 2011 8:20 pm

    Thank goodness that kids are learning that the adults on this planet are lying idiots who should be treated with contempt.

    The war on drugs insanity, and the associated police state acceptance mentality, need to be relegated to the trash bin of history.

  8. malcolm kyle on May 19th, 2011 3:07 am

    Here are just some of the many studies the Feds wish they’d never commissioned:


    A massive study of California HMO members funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found marijuana use caused no significant increase in mortality. Tobacco use was associated with increased risk of death. Sidney, S et al. Marijuana Use and Mortality. American Journal of Public Health
    . Vol. 87 No. 4, April 1997. p. 585-590. Sept. 2002.


    Veterans Affairs scientists looked at whether heavy marijuana use as a young adult caused long-term problems later, studying identical twins in which one twin had been a heavy marijuana user for a year or longer but had stopped at least one month before the study, while the second twin had used marijuana no more than five times ever. Marijuana use had no significant impact on physical or mental health care utilization, health-related quality of life, or current socio-demographic characteristics. Eisen SE et al. Does Marijuana Use Have Residual Adverse Effects on Self-Reported Health Measures, Socio-Demographics or Quality of Life? A Monozygotic Co-Twin Control Study in Men. Addiction. Vol. 97 No. 9. p.1083-1086. Sept. 1997


    Marijuana is often called a “gateway drug” by supporters of prohibition, who point to statistical “associations” indicating that persons who use marijuana are more likely to eventually try hard drugs than those who never use marijuana – implying that marijuana use somehow causes hard drug use. But a model developed by RAND Corp. researcher Andrew Morral demonstrates that these associations can be explained “without requiring a gateway effect.” More likely, this federally funded study suggests, some people simply have an underlying propensity to try drugs, and start with what’s most readily available. Morral AR, McCaffrey D and Paddock S. Reassessing the Marijuana Gateway Effect. Addiction. December 2002. p. 1493-1504.


    The White House had the National Research Council examine the data being gathered about drug use and the effects of U.S. drug policies. NRC concluded, “the nation possesses little information about the effectiveness of current drug policy, especially of drug law enforcement.” And what data exist show “little apparent relationship between severity of sanctions prescribed for drug use and prevalence or frequency of use.” In other words, there is no proof that prohibition – the cornerstone of U.S. drug policy for a century – reduces drug use. National Research Council. Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us. National Academy Press, 2001. p. 193.

    05) PROHIBITION MAY CAUSE THE “GATEWAY EFFECT”?): U.S. and Dutch researchers, supported in part by NIDA, compared marijuana users in San Francisco, where non-medical use remains illegal, to Amsterdam, where adults may possess and purchase small amounts of marijuana from regulated businesses. Looking at such parameters as frequency and quantity of use and age at onset of use, they found the following: Cannabis (Marijuana) use in San Francisco was 3 times the prevalence found in the Amsterdam sample. And lifetime use of hard drugs was significantly lower in Amsterdam, with its “tolerant” marijuana policies. For example, lifetime crack cocaine use was 4.5 times higher in San Francisco than Amsterdam. Reinarman, C, Cohen, PDA, and Kaal, HL. The Limited Relevance of Drug Policy: Cannabis in Amsterdam and San Francisco. American Journal of Public Health. Vol. 94, No. 5. May 2004. p 836-842.


    Federal researchers implanted several types of cancer, including leukemia and lung cancers, in mice, then treated them with cannabinoids (unique, active components found in marijuana). THC and other cannabinoids shrank tumors and increased the mice’s lifespans. Munson, AE et al. Antineoplastic Activity of Cannabinoids. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Sept. 1975. p. 597-602.


    In a 1994 study the government tried to suppress, federal researchers gave mice and rats massive doses of THC, looking for cancers or other signs of toxicity. The rodents given THC lived longer and had fewer cancers, “in a dose-dependent manner” (i.e. the more THC they got, the fewer tumors). NTP Technical Report On The Toxicology And Carcinogenesis Studies Of 1-Trans- Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, CAS No. 1972-08-3, In F344/N Rats And B6C3F Mice, Gavage Studies. See also, “Medical Marijuana: Unpublished Federal Study Found THC-Treated Rats Lived Longer, Had Less Cancer,” AIDS Treatment News no. 263, Jan. 17, 1997.


    Researchers at the Kaiser-Permanente HMO, funded by NIDA, followed 65,000 patients for nearly a decade, comparing cancer rates among non-smokers, tobacco smokers, and marijuana smokers. Tobacco smokers had massively higher rates of lung cancer and other cancers. Marijuana smokers who didn’t also use tobacco had no increase in risk of tobacco-related cancers or of cancer risk overall. In fact their rates of lung and most other cancers were slightly lower than non-smokers, though the difference did not reach statistical significance. Sidney, S. et al. Marijuana Use and Cancer Incidence (California, United States). Cancer Causes and Control. Vol. 8. Sept. 1997, p. 722-728.


    Donald Tashkin, a UCLA researcher whose work is funded by NIDA, did a case-control study comparing 1,200 patients with lung, head and neck cancers to a matched group with no cancer. Even the heaviest marijuana smokers had no increased risk of cancer, and had somewhat lower cancer risk than non-smokers (tobacco smokers had a 20-fold increased Lung Cancer risk). Tashkin D. Marijuana Use and Lung Cancer: Results of a Case-Control Study. American Thoracic Society International Conference. May 23, 2006.


    In response to passage of California’s medical marijuana law, the White House had the Institute of Medicine (IOM) review the data on marijuana’s medical benefits and risks. The IOM concluded, “Nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety are all afflictions of wasting, and all can be mitigated by marijuana.” The report also added, “we acknowledge that there is no clear alternative for people suffering from chronic conditions that might be relieved by smoking marijuana, such as pain or AIDS wasting.” The government’s refusal to acknowledge this finding caused co-author John A. Benson to tell the New York Times that the government “loves to ignore our report … they would rather it never happened.” Joy, JE, Watson, SJ, and Benson, JA. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. National Academy Press. 1999. p. 159. See also, Harris, G. FDA Dismisses Medical Benefit From Marijuana. New York Times. Apr. 21, 2006

  9. darkcycle on May 19th, 2011 7:02 am

    Arsenic….an HERB??? Did I read that right, did that “Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor” REALLY say that arsenic is an HERB? SO….Sodium is an heb that grows out of the ground too, huh? maybe Hydrogen?
    I’m afraid the”factual” statements of someone who doesn’t know the difference between a plant and a mineral (o.k., Element) need to be taken with a grain of salt. (NO, Salt is NOT and HERB)
    It makes me ill to think I actually WORKED for YES at one time. Before the current crop of sixth-grade dropouts, that is.

  10. darkcycle on May 19th, 2011 7:35 am

    …where IS Broccoli on the periodic table anyway?

  11. darkcycle on May 19th, 2011 7:37 am

    I don’t care, at least the moderator wil see these *chuckle*

  12. Free Radical on May 19th, 2011 10:51 am

    This article is the usual fear-mongering. Anyone who has done the research knows that no one dies from pot, yet millions have died from legal substances. If teens or young adults made the safer choice of smoking cannabis, millions would not need to smoke tobacco or drink alcohol to try to have fun and many lives would be saved as a result.

    Never does she mention how prohibition has been a dismal failure, racist and wrongheaded from the beginning.

  13. disprover on May 19th, 2011 11:29 am

    Decreases school performance huh?

    I smoke pot and I just got straight As, while taking Calculus II, Physics w/Calculus, Computer Architecture, and CHemistry at the college level………

    if you can do better miss then please stop me, maybe you should START blazing….

  14. Richard P Steeb on May 19th, 2011 7:34 pm

    Friends of Youth Director of Community Treatment Services Paula Frederick needs to read up on the Tashkin study. Daily enjoyment of smoked Cannabis has *controlled* my asthma since 1968.

    Allow me to boil it down for you: To keep Cannabis illegal while tobacco and alcohol are dispensed freely would be *MURDEROUSLY STUPID*.

    Richard P Steeb, San Jose California

  15. Grover Clever on May 19th, 2011 11:33 pm

    Since when is arsenic an herb? I was under the impression it was an element.

  16. Kris Smith on May 29th, 2012 1:27 pm

    Medical marijuana has got me back on my feet! I have been on morphine for chronic pain, as well as a number of muscle relaxant and anxiety drugs for many years, and my health was spiraling down to where my oxygen levels were very low and the morphine was not sufficient to stop enough of my pain, so I could stand. I was at the end of my rope, and then my cardiologist commented that maybe I should consider medicinal marijuana. I told my husband and he started studying and ended up ushering me in to get my green card.

    This was April of 2012, so I am just beginning to see the benefits! Immediately, I was able to stop all of my anxiety medications and had no need of the muscle relaxants, plus my oxygen levels immediately shot up to high normal range. I believe the increases blood flow helped to stop all the muscle cramping. I am only taking capsules, to avoid the addiction of smoking. I have also tapered off of the morphine by 2/3’s and see no problem with discontinuing it permanently with the help of marijuana. I am also getting an immense feeling of pain relief from using the marijuana cream on the myofascial pain area that I was told was permanently damaged in my shoulder.

    I can’t help but wonder how many of our senior citizens could be off of their oxygen tanks with the use of simple marijuana capsules. Not to mention all the other positive benefits this drug has for those suffering with severe illnesses. Why does this subject always have to be about just smoking it? We should be seeing this as a HUGE medical breakthrough and running with it!

  17. tom freeman on November 25th, 2012 8:38 am


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