Wednesday, December 12, 2007

From "Mary Jane" to "Magic Brownies": Confronting the Myth and Metaphor of Marijuana

When I was a junior in high school, I found out what a bong was. It was while socializing with a group of acquaintances after class at my new school that I realized their joking and pantomime meant that they intended to make a McDonald's Happy Meal figurine into some kind of drug paraphernalia. Later, with a trusted friend, I asked for more specifics because I was in the dark. Naive and in the dark.

Fact: I've never smoked, injested, or been around the drug commonly known as "pot." And while most people can recognize its scent at concerts or catch it wafting out of the neighbor's open window, I honestly have little recollection of what that smell is. I take others' word for it.

Fact: References to cannabis as a psychoactive drug can be found in a limitless number of songs spanning across nearly all genres--folk, jazz, rock, alternative, rap, metal, R&B...

Fact: If you google the term "marijuana," over 2.5 million websites pop up.

Fact: Marijuana is the most widely used drug among America's youth.

Fact: I frequently have students show up to my class under the influence of the substance known as THC, which is found in marijuana. If they do not have evidence of the drug on their person, there is nothing I or my school can do about it.

Each of us holds one opinion or another on the use of marijuana. I know some who are fully in support of its legalization. Others are leading a fight against the use of this drug, especially among adolescents.

Any way you slice it, both sides have strengths and flaws in their argument. I frequently hear from the legalization side that it is far less dangerous than drinking alcohol. Whether that be true or false--what does this have to do with justifying the use of marijuana? Isn't this like saying "Well, technically, this double chocolate fudge chunk ice cream isn't quite as bad for me as the triple chocolate fudge chunk ice cream--so this justifies my eating an entire gallon of it in one sitting."

With careful analysis of the statistics given by those on the opposing side, however, you get the sense that marijuna is taking the blame for social problems that could or could not correlate. Take for instance, this fact posted on a website for the National Youth Anti-Drug Campaign Marijuana Prevention Initiative:

"In 2002, approximately 21 percent of youths (5 million) engaged in serious fighting at school or work, almost 16 percent (4 million) took part in a group-against-group fight, and almost 8 percent (2 million) attacked someone with the intent to seriously hurt them during the past year. Nearly 5 percent of youths (1.2 million) stole or tried to steal something worth more than $50, more than 4 percent (1.1 million) sold illegal drugs, and more than 3 percent (800,000) carried a handgun during the past year. The percentages of youths engaging in delinquent behaviors in the past year rose with increasing frequency of marijuana use."

I guess I bring all this up because, frankly, I'm growing weary of the subtle message that is sent out which whispers "pot ain't all that bad." Many of my students have heard the soft voice of this message and marijuana has become their drug of choice. Watch any movie geared at an audience ranging from adolescence through mid-20's and I would pose that at least half of those films make humorous references to marijuana. Talk to many adults and soon enough confessions of their relaxing weekend drug of choice are allowed to slip. While the law says one thing, society says another. This is made evident when you acknowledge that the number of 8th graders who had at least tried marijuana doubled between 1991 and 2001.

And this all has me worried, because I see students every day who frequently injest or smoke the drug known as marijuana and feel that it is one of the safest recreational activities they could engage in. It concerns me because while many of my students have little to know recollection of what the Holocaust was or why, exactly, we celebrate the 4th of July, nearly all of my students express a strong desire to visit Amsterdam one day and see April 11th as a cause for celebration. Furthermore, it worries me that messages like the one touting the harmlessness of marijuana seem to be the only messages some of my students hear. And these messages are just plain false.

This has me worried because the truth is that pot is physiologically dangerous, especially when used by adolescents. Marijuana is more likely to be highly addictive the earlier you start using the drug. Marijuana causes similar changes in the brain to that of cocain, heroin, and alcohol. Marijuana, when smoked, contains the same cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco. In fact, the tar inhaled by marijuana smokers and the level of carbon monoxide absorbed by those who smoke marijuana, regardless of THC content, are three to five times greater than among tobacco smokers. Furthermore, marijuana users experience a higher rate of anxiety, panic attacks, depression and other mental health problems.

But does giving this message to my students who may or may not be addicted to marijuana even really make a difference? Let's face it, it is adolescents who wear their jeans either too tight--and possibly purchased in the department store section intended for the opposite gender--or too baggy, resulting in a need to both walk as though they have wet their pants AND show their vast collection of undergarments. Apparently this is a population highly uncognizant of the influence media, society, and fashion have on them. So, do I as a mere dorky, annoying, unhip teacher stand a chance against all the glitz, glamour and justification behind marijuana usage?

Those are my thoughts. Comment as you will.


LovingTheChaos said...

Amen...can I get a Hallelujah?

It is SO funny you bring this up. My friend emailed me this website yesterday. It's a new reality-based school drug prevention program getting a lot of support. It sounds like a good deal to me. We, meaning schools and school personnel, are too afraid to "overstep" our bounds when really they all need a big huge reality check. Tough love style! :)

Anyway...check it out and let me know what you think.

LovingTheChaos said... option=com_content&task=view&id=233

LovingTheChaos said...

The whole website didn't print

Sorry for the three comments :)

Alice said...

You go girl! So much to think about!! It is amazing to me how widely accepted smoking marijuana and the blief that it does NO harm actually is. When I was administering TeenScreen to all the 8th graders in one particular school, I was suprised to learn their beliefs about this particular drug, and how widely it was used at their age? Something needs to be done that will actually work, but what? How?

Unfortunatley, I am guilty of a societal "group think" as well. I notice when working with clients now, I feel relieved if pot is the worst it ever got?

Meemer said...

i couldn't agree more. it's a dang seductive lie. i've seen it on friends during those crazy college years. i saw many with great futures who lost it all due to smoking pot. as one who was temporarily caught in the lie, it was great fun, until i overstepped the lines and lost controll. i would love to rewind and make a different choice...i believe it's all about honest information.

Anonymous said...

It is neither good nor bad. as in all things, moderation is vital.Without it, it is no less deadly than alchohol.

Anonymous said...

i meant alchoholism, dears