Smoking cigarettes was legal for 16-year-olds in DC in until the early ’90s. In fact, my little independent day school had “smoking stairs”; if a student was of age or had a note from a parent (seriously), he or she could venture to the stairs to smoke on campus between classes. Gone are those days, and thank goodness; the 2015 Monitoring the Future Study revealed great news last July: the number of college students smoking cigarettes dropped from 31% to 13% in the last 15 years. Could the drop be chalked up to an onslaught of antismoking ads that target both vanity and fear of death? Could we thank 2009 hikes in federal taxes on tobacco products? Perhaps a groundswell of effective quit-smoking educational and support programs are behind the drop. Certainly perceptions about tobacco use have become more wary.
By contrast, fewer young people perceive marijuana to be dangerous. Now, a level of tolerance for marijuana use among students has become the norm in some states, shocking many caregivers who witness some adverse effects in individuals. In fact, American high-school graduates who consider marijuana dangerous to health sank from 55% in 2006 to 35% in 2014.
Some speculate that fewer young people view pot as dangerous because a number of states have legalized its use. Reports supporting medical cannabis, as well as select studies such as recent International Lung Cancer Consortium (ILCCO) research, which found no evidence of increased lung cancer among pot smokers, likely improves pot's image. If ad campaigns work to deter smoking, might similar campaigns counter ignorance about the risks of pot? Though pot doesn’t appear to cause lung cancer, more studies are in order to assess risk, since cannabis contains some of the same carcinogens as cigarettes, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and pot actually contributes more tar to the lungs than cigarettes. And think outside of the lungs: MRI studies show that long-term heavy marijuana use causes structural changes in the brain. For example, long-term pot use leads to a 12% reduction in volume of the hippocampus and a 7% reduction of the amygdala, which in turn damages verbal-learning ability and increases chances for psychotic episodes not unlike schizophrenia.
And as has been reported in other blog articles on the this site, the marijuana of today is not the marijuana of yesterday. Much of the data scientists have gathered regarding effects of long-term smoking is now dated, since the THC content in pot today has increased by 370% or more in the past 18 years, with dangerously grave (often psychotic) consequences showing up in hospital emergency rooms across the nation. Parents have to take this intensified potency into account when deciding how to relate their own experiences or observations to the expectations they hold for their children.