WHEELING - Through its Monitoring the Future survey, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that 60 percent of U.S. high school seniors surveyed do not view regular marijuana use as harmful to health.
Martha Polinsky, project coordinator of the Ohio County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, believes social norms have influenced such views.
"There's been a low perception of harm for a long time," Polinsky said. "It's becoming more and more ingrained in our culture."
Photo by Rebecca Olsavsky
Entries from last year’s Choose a Clear Mind poster contest hang in the Ohio County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition’s office.
In addition to health risks involving the smoking and addiction aspects, a major harm of marijuana use, particularly among youth, involves brain and development impact, according to Polinsky. She said studies show those who begin using marijuana regularly while teenagers can lose six to eight IQ points over time. The drug also affects memory, concentration, time perception and problem solving ability.
"At that age, your brain is still developing," Polinsky said.
Polinsky noted that, because marijuana's becoming more potent with more THC in it, it is not the same as it used to be. For example, there is a correlation between smoking marijuana and the onset of mental illness.
"We need to look at it with fresh eyes," Polinsky said of the issue. "Parents should think about what message they're sending by thinking it should be legal. If parents don't think it's dangerous, more than likely kids won't either."
Although she emphasized it can be difficult for parents to determine if a child is using marijuana, Polinsky said some signs include being less social or social in a different way with different friends, grades slipping and attitude changes.
She believes smoking the drug used to be considered more counterculture, whereas it is now more about business and making money. Referencing both current alcohol advertising, such as beer commercials reaching a wide audience during the Super Bowl, and past cigarette marketing tactics that are now banned, Polinsky recognized the power of money earned from marijuana sales being recycled back into marketing efforts.
"From a marketing perspective, that scares me," Polinsky said.
In regards to the coalition's efforts to inform, Polinsky said OCSAPC, "has always and will continue to address low perception of harm with marijuana."