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What teenagers need to know about pot

A pot Q&A for teens: Does marijuana affect my brain? 'Yes,' says counselor Kelly Kerby. 'Absolutely it does.'

Kelly Kerby is a licensed mental health counselor and chemical dependency professional who works at Eckstein Middle School in Seattle. Inga Manskopf manages the Prevention WINS Coalition at Seattle Children's Hospital.

Their message to youth in states where recreational marijuana use is legal is simple: It's not legal until you're 21. They talked to the Los Angeles Times about the most important information for young people to know about marijuana:

Does marijuana affect my brain?

Kelly Kerby: Yes! Absolutely it does. It increases dopamine just like any drug does, but that throws off the balance of your brain and it impacts the reward center of your brain. Developmentally, you want that center of your brain to be fully developed before you introduce any type of drug or alcohol into it. It also impacts your short-term memory and the hippocampus part of your brain. It does a lot of things to your brain.

Does everyone smoke marijuana?

Inga Manskopf: According to our Healthy Youth Survey, even in high school, less than a third of 10th-graders use marijuana. The vast majority do not use.

KK: I tell kids that sometimes it feels like everyone does, but the reality is, most don't.

Why can't I use marijuana until I'm 21?

KK: Adults' brains are fully developed. ... A teenage brain is developing. It's much better for those pieces of your brain if you don't use marijuana, especially, like, executive functioning: the parts of your brain where you make decisions, where you organize, where memory is, that haven't been as fully developed as in an adult brain. If you use marijuana enough, it can impact those parts of your brain. Not permanently, but it can impact them for a long time.

Is it OK to eat marijuana products, or to vaporize it?

KK: No. It's still going to impact your brain. The edible piece is, actually, we found it to be somewhat dangerous. It takes so long to get into your system and youth aren't always understanding the impact of that ... and actually a lot of old people aren't either. We've had a lot of kids in the hospital. People are having very bad reactions to the edibles. With vaporizing, you're taking away the smoke but you still have the same impact on your brain as you do with smoking.

What should I do if my friends say I should smoke it?

KK: You need to make your own decision not based on what your friends do. You need to put yourself in a situation where, if that's something you don't want to do, that you're around people that also don't smoke. If you don't want to smoke, make sure that you say that, that you say it clearly and that you don't feel bad about it. I always tell kids to stay true to themselves, that's your decision.

Or, I tell kids, lie. Say your parents are drug testing you. "I've got a test. My mom checks my pupils. I'm on probation, and I'm gonna get tested." Whatever to get out of it. If you don't want to do it, make sure you don't.

Should I take medical marijuana to help me if I'm sick?

KK: If you need medication, then you need to talk to a doctor. If you have something going on, some kind of illness, anxiety, you should talk to your doctor. Typically marijuana, especially for a teenager, is a last resort. It's not something we want to give teenagers because of the impact on their brain, which would be a side effect. It would be too risky.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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