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AUSTIN EDITION FAMILYFIRST

Stronger marijuana poses danger

Q: Who's really concerned about adolescent marijuana use?

A: Chemical dependency counselors are concerned, physicians are concerned, scientists and researchers are concerned, and parents should be concerned.

The marijuana that's available today is far more powerful than what people generally smoked 30 years ago, and medical science has accumulated considerable evidence of its dangers. According to a 2004 National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse report, researchers say that smoking pot is a dangerous game of Russian roulette, not a harmless rite of passage.

Next to alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is the drug of choice for American teens, and while marijuana use among young people is said to be declining, it's being used by younger teens. The average age of first use is 13 years old.

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In the National Center's 2003 survey, 34 percent of young people reported that marijuana was easier to buy than beer or cigarettes. Nearly 40 percent said they could buy marijuana within a day; 20 percent said they could buy marijuana within an hour. Recent national research indicates that teens are three times more likely to be in treatment for marijuana abuse than for alcohol and six times more likely to be in treatment for marijuana than for all other illegal drugs combined.

Local statistics mirror national statistics. Jack Wittkopp, chemical dependency director at Austin Medical Center, says marijuana is not just a "gateway" drug -- it is the "interstate" of drugs.

About 85 percent of teens in treatment have marijuana as a main drug of choice or as at least one of their main drugs. Kids mistakenly believe marijuana is a harmless natural herb and "not a big deal." Parents also are deceived, being relieved that "it's only marijuana that their kids use."

Even if you still smoke cigarettes, it's likely that you're clear with your children that you don't want them addicted to tobacco. With all we know about marijuana, all parents should also be motivated to give strong, consistent messages of parental disapproval of marijuana use and intervene immediately if they realize their children are experimenting.

To talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges of raising children, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204. (Llame gratis a la Linea de Apoyo y Comprension Paterna al:1-877-434-9528). Check out the Parent Online Web site at www.parentonline.org.

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