To the Editor:
Rhode Islanders may have more questions than answers when it comes to how we look at the impact of marijuana legalization on our kids’ health and wellbeing. For many kids, “legal” means “safe,” and that perception, along with the rising popularity of vaping among youths, puts their health at great risk.
A recent article from HealthDay News online reported that a growing number of U.S. teens are vaping marijuana, a habit that may be more risky than old-fashioned pot smoking. What really changed, a recent study found, was how kids were using the drug. There was a sharp increase in vaping, while traditional marijuana smoking declined. The percentage of kids who said they vaped marijuana “frequently,” at least once a week, more than doubled, from 2.1 to 5.4 percent.
Vaping seemed to be replacing smoking, according to Katherine Keyes, professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. The rising popularity of vaping nicotine, along with legalization and changing social norms around marijuana, are likely factors, Keyes said.
Linda Richter, vice president of prevention research and analysis for the nonprofit Partnership to End Addiction, added “The wave of nicotine vaping that spread through middle and high schools over the past several years increased the likelihood that kids who vape nicotine will transition to vaping marijuana. Vaped products are typically seen as safer and healthier than smoked products, because when e-cigarettes were originally introduced, they were advertised as safer alternatives to cigarette smoking.”
Marijuana oils used in vapes can have a significantly higher level of THC versus plant marijuana. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more potent marijuana, combined with the use of high-THC concentrates, raises concerns that the consequences of marijuana use today could be worse than in the past, particularly among young people, whose brains are still developing. Youths are also more likely to become addicted when they start using marijuana before the age of 18, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
We adults must keep in mind the reasons why adolescents are at such great risk for developing an addiction to substances like marijuana and nicotine. The combination of their increased tendencies for risk taking, decreased impulse control, decreased parental monitoring, and increased peer relationships could put them at the center of a “perfect storm.” Let’s stay informed, talk with our kids, and help them be healthy and safe.
Christine Nolan Middletown Prevention Coalition