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Archive for Sunday, November 16, 2003

Experts say today’s marijuana is more potent than ever

November 16, 2003

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Even though baby-boomer parents might have smoked pot in their younger years, experts say the kids today should steer clear of marijuana.

The straight dope? It's not your parents' weed anymore. What's on the streets now is much more potent than several decades ago.

Studies and reports show that street pot seized during drug arrests in the late 1990s was twice as potent as that confiscated in the late 1980s and four times the strength of that picked up in the 1970s.

Articles in scientific journals show that average levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, an active ingredient in marijuana that produces the high, have risen from roughly 2 percent in the 1970s to an average of 5 percent two years ago.

"The U.S. Drug Enforcement (Administration) actually monitors the THC content of their seizures," said Terrill Bravender, a professor of pediatrics and director of adolescent medicine at Duke University.

"It's true that the majority seized today has more THC in it than in what was seized in the late '60s and early '70s."

High school students, law enforcement officials and counselors say alcohol and drug use have become the norm these days at many teenage gatherings.

"It's an old notion that alcohol and drugs are passageways to adulthood," said Kenneth C. Mills, a private behavioral counselor in Chapel Hill, N.C., and member of a local panel that wants to draw attention to the issue.

"The social norm that's creeping in is that pot is harmless. The second norm that is creeping in, with the potency that we're seeing today, with the strength we're seeing, addiction problems are creeping in."

Parents, counselors and others worried about the trend have banded together in Chapel Hill to get people talking about alcohol and drug use among teens.

There are different theories on the effects of the more potent pot. Some say stronger does not necessarily mean more dangerous, especially if it takes less smoke inhalation to get the same high.

But physicians and counselors challenge such thinking. They say decision-making and cognitive skills are impaired long after the high wears off and that as long as THC is in the body -- and that can be two to three days after one-time use -- learning new things can be difficult.

But it's not just the potency of today's marijuana that troubles counselors and parents. They say drug and alcohol use has become so accepted among teens that many forget it is illegal.

As has been the case for several decades, many parents often seem surprised to find that their children are among those drinking or using drugs.

"Most parents don't even know their kids are using," said Linda Hammock, a substance abuse prevention and intervention counselor at Chapel Hill High School who works consistently with 100 students in the 1,700-student body.

Many of the teens she talks with, she said, consider themselves moderate users if they smoke pot or drink three or four times a month. "To me, for high school kids to be drinking and using two or three times a month, that is significant," Hammock said.

"They absolutely think they're very moderate. For an adult, that would even be perceived as moderate, but they're in high school."

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