1) "I'm bored..."Some people say they are curious or bored and want to see how drugs will make them feel. But everyone reacts differently to drugs, and there is just no way to predict what your reaction will be. Some drugs (like cocaine, heroin, inhalants, and sedatives) can kill you with just one use — they can cause immediate health consequences like heart attacks, suffocation, and breathing problems -- while others, like marijuana, can cause you to become paranoid or behave in ways that aren't you. While you might hear "no one has ever died from marijuana," it isn't quite this simple. The impaired functioning and judgment due to marijuana use can result in potentially deadly activities, like driving while high or taking risks that can place you in dangerous situations.
The real question is: By "trying" drugs, do you realize that you're setting yourself up for even bigger problems? What's happening to your passions, your future? What type of person are you becoming?
2) "I think drugs will help me with stress..."
Other people say that they think they can make themselves feel "good" by taking drugs. They think that if they are unhappy, drugs will make them feel better. And some people say they think that taking drugs might help them to cope with stress in their lives. But drugs don't fix the problems that are causing the stress in the first place, and they don't stop the feelings themselves.
Taking drugs can alter brain chemistry. The brain's chemistry is so complicated and fragile that altering it can disrupt how it naturally works, possibly leading to depression or other mental diseases. In fact, people who have depression and other mental illnesses already suffer from chemical imbalances in their brains, and taking drugs can make things worse.
Stress becomes worse if you don't deal with it, so figure out what is causing your stress in the first place. If you cannot remove stress from your life, you can learn solid ways of dealing with it. You do have options. If schoolwork is stressful, meet with your teacher for extra help and to learn techniques that will make learning easier. Activities such as exercise, sports, art, meditation, going for a long walk, napping, and just chilling every once and a while, will help you manage stress.
Also remember that if your stress becomes completely overwhelming, you don't have to cope with it alone. You can talk with a counselor, coach, family member, or any adult that you trust who can teach you how to deal with stress or recommend someone to talk to. Sometimes when feelings of stress become overwhelming, it can lead to anxiety or depression, which can be identified and treated by a professional.
Daily stress can be difficult enough by itself but it can be much worse if one or both of your parents struggle with drug or alcohol addiction. Sadly, one in four children under the age of 18 is living in a home where alcoholism or alcohol abuse is a fact of daily life. Countless others are exposed to illegal drug use in their families1 and this can make home life very difficult. It's important to remember that it's not your fault that your parents use alcohol or drugs. Visit the National Association for Children of Alcoholics or Alateen Web sites for more information and help. Or call the NineLine anonymous hotline — 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-999-9999.
3) "Maybe drugs will help me fit in..."
Many people have the misperception that "everyone is doing it." Not true. In 2007, the vast majority of tenth graders had not used marijuana in the past month, and more than half of all seniors (53.2%) had never tried any illicit drug even once in their lives.2 It can be hard to relate to these facts if some of your friends are using drugs, but what you do need to realize, though, is that drugs could eventually become more important to your friends than your friendship. This is especially true when users become addicted because they grow so dependent on and interested in getting high that they no longer have time for friends.
Friends don't always agree on everything, and you don't have to do the same things in order to be good friends.
4) "I think drugs may make me seem rebellious or cool..."
Sometimes movies, television, and advertisements use images of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes to make characters seem rebellious or cool to increase the ratings of a show or to sell products. Most people understand these are just images designed to sell products, and that these are not real people or stories. In reality, students who use alcohol or drugs are more likely to perform poorly in school3 and people who use drugs are more likely to get fired from work.4
Alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs aren't the things that make someone grown up. What makes people "grown up" are constructive things like organizing a group of friends to do something that matters; figuring out how to use your talents to make the world a better place; making good decisions that are healthy for you, friends, and family; earning a good living; and being involved in community or sports groups.
5) "I heard that marijuana is sometimes used as a medicine..."
Some Web sites encourage drug use and mislead visitors into thinking that marijuana cures or effectively treats diseases. This is simply not true. Marijuana is NOT medicine and it does not cure anything. In 1999, The Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a landmark study that concluded that, for many reasons, "there is little future in smoked marijuana as a medically approved medication." 5 The overwhelming opinion from major medical institutions, including The American Medical Association, The American Cancer Society, The American Academy of Pediatrics, The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, The British Medical Association, The Food and Drug Administration, and the Drug Enforcement Agency is that that smoked marijuana has no "documented medical value," and these associations do not advocate its legalization.6 These groups are the associations of doctors, nurses, scientists, police officers, and public health experts who are in charge of researching and creating safe and effective medical practices and public health policy. The Food and Drug Administration is the only agency in the U.S that reviews drugs to make sure they are safe and effective.
- Marijuana does not cure cancer. The American Medical Association notes that heavy doses of ingested marijuana can help some cancer patients gain weight that they have lost due to the illness, but these people experienced unpleasant side effects like "dizziness and somnolence [feeling really tired]." 7 It doesn't CURE cancer at all.
- Marijuana does not cure glaucoma. The American Medical Association also states that "neither smoked marijuana nor THC is a viable approach in the treatment of glaucoma," which results in blindness caused by increased pressure in the eye. This is mostly because any benefits are temporary and the patient's destructive eye condition returns "within 3 to 4 hours." Additionally, marijuana may actually do other damage because it restricts blood vessels and can "reduce blood flow to the optic nerve" or negatively interact with other glaucoma medications. 8 In other words, there is a potential for marijuana to actually harm the user's eyes. There are far more effective prescription drugs for treating glaucoma that do not have the negative side effects of marijuana.
- Marijuana does not cure Multiple Sclerosis. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) states that studies done to date "have not provided convincing evidence that marijuana benefits people with MS." Furthermore, the NMSS warns that the "long-term use of marijuana may be associated with significant serious side effects."9
- Smoked marijuana has no medical benefits of any kind and is NOT a medicine. The Food and Drug Administration, the only agency in the U.S that reviews drugs to make sure they are safe and effective, has not approved smoked marijuana for any condition or disease. Additionally, the FDA notes that "there is currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful," and "that no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data supported the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use."10
6) "I heard in the news that marijuana has been legalized in some states..."
Using marijuana is prohibited by the Federal government – it is illegal. While a handful of states have voted to allow a limited number of medical patients to use marijuana, it is not politicians or voters who decide what medicines are safe or effective -- doctors and scientists do that. People don't VOTE to decide what drugs are best to treat a heart attack or which antibiotics are safe for treating an infection.
No one wants people to suffer. But marijuana is not a cure for disease or illness - period.
7) "Marijuana and mushrooms grow naturally so they must be safe..."
Just because something grows in nature doesn't mean that it is not dangerous or poisonous. Would you smoke or eat poison ivy or anthrax just because they are natural?
Marijuana can also contain chemical additives that are used in the drying process, or it can be combined with other illicit substances. There are even stories of dealers adding formaldehyde (embalming fluid). And, marijuana is often grown and genetically modified to have very high THC levels. Since 1985, the average marijuana potency has more than doubled.11 In addition to experiencing many of the same respiratory problems that tobacco users experience, such as more frequent acute chest illness, a heightened risk of lung infections, and a greater tendency to have obstructed airways,12 recent research has shown that young people who use marijuana weekly have double the risk of depression later in life.13 Past-year marijuana use has been linked to social withdrawal, anxiety, depression, attention problems, and thoughts of suicide in adolescents.14 Additionally, heavy marijuana users are much more likely than non-users to be diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life.15 A recent study found that the earlier a teen uses marijuana (age 15 vs. age 18), the greater the risk of schizophrenia.16
8) "If it's prescribed by a doctor, then it must be ok..."
Prescription drugs can be dangerous and even lethal when taken without medical direction or mixed with other drugs or alcohol. Misusing or abusing prescription drugs can result in addiction, strokes, seizures, comas, and other severe medical conditions. Only a doctor can know what types of prescription drugs are beneficial for a patient and what dosage is safe. The very reason prescription drugs require a prescription from a doctor is because they can be dangerous and need to be regulated to ensure patients take them as directed. Getting high on prescription drugs is no safer than street drugs and can cause addiction or kill. Even if a person is prescribed a medication, taking more of that drug, or taking it more often than recommended, is dangerous.
The most recent research on deaths in the U.S. due to unintentional poisoning over a five year period shows that nearly all poisoning deaths are attributed to prescription and illegal drugs. Prescription opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and methadone account for the greatest percentage of deaths from prescription drugs.17
Side effects of prescription drugs, including painkillers, depressants, and stimulants, include respiratory depression, dizziness, slurred speech, poor concentration, feelings of confusion, increased heart rate and breathing, excessive sweating, vomiting, tremors, anxiety, hostility and aggression, suicidal and homicidal tendencies, convulsions, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, nausea and vomiting, apathy, heart attacks, addiction, coma, and death.18 19 20 21 22 23
Prescription drugs can also be addictive. Between 1995 and 2005, treatment admissions for abuse of prescription pain relievers grew more than 300 percent. 24
Additionally, getting or "sharing" prescription drugs without a prescription is illegal — and may subject a person to arrest and prosecution. Regardless of how you acquire a prescription medication, using these types of drugs without a valid prescription and medical supervision is unsafe. These drugs are intended only for the person they are prescribed for and only treat the condition for which they are prescribed.
9) "Drugs sold at a pharmacy (without a prescription) must be ok..."
All drugs, regardless of whether they are illicit, prescription, or over-the-counter (available without a prescription), change the body's function or chemistry from its natural state and can be harmful. For example, even the common drug acetaminophen (more commonly known as Tylenol®) can cause side effects and liver damage when taken in high dosages.
As is the case with any drug, overdoses from over-the-counter medication can occur. From 1999 to 2004, there was a seven-fold increase in cases related to the abuse of DXM reported to poison control centers nationwide. Most of these cases were among 15- and 16-year-olds.25 The health risks of abusing OTC cough and cold remedies include impaired judgment/nausea, loss of coordination, headache, vomiting, loss of consciousness, numbness of fingers and toes, abdominal pain, irregular heartbeat, aches, seizures, panic attacks, psychosis, cold flashes, dizziness, diarrhea, addiction, restlessness, insomnia, high blood pressure, coma, and death.26
An overdose on over-the-counter drugs can vary greatly depending on what other drugs they are mixed with, the amount of drugs taken and how they are taken. Some over-the-counter drugs can cause serious problems or even death if used incorrectly.27 The only safe way to take over-the-counter medications is exactly as directed on the bottle and to treat the symptoms for which they are intended.
10) "Prescription drugs will improve my athletic or academic performance or make me more attractive..."
There are a lot of pressures today - to look good, play sports, and get great grades. And you may be feeling those pressures right now. Some teens think they can take a drug to help "improve" their bodies, change how they feel, or get more energy. You may have heard of kids doing this.
While drugs like steroids or weight-loss supplements can seem like a "quick fix," the changes you get can disappear just as fast as soon as you stop taking them. Worse, they can cause problems you don't want. Males who take steroids may temporarily gain muscle, but they can develop terrible acne (zits), stunt their height, develop shrunken testicles, and even develop breasts (a condition known as gynecomastia; sometimes referred to as "man boobs.")28 Females taking steroids can become more masculine with deepened voices, decreased breast size, and growth of excessive body hair.29 Steroids can cause balding in both men and women.29 When teens take weight-loss drugs or supplements, not only does the weight return when they stop taking the supplements; but they are also putting their health at risk, since these drugs can cause heart disease, irregular heartbeats, and high blood pressure.
For example in 2004, the FDA banned the popular weight loss and athletic performance-enhancing supplement, Ephedra, because it raised the user's blood pressure and was determined to cause a "significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury."31 Research showed that Ephedra increased the risk of stroke and heart attack32 and there were numerous stories of athletes suffering heart attacks while taking Ephedra. It is important to remember that supplements are not reviewed by the FDA, the sole U.S. agency that reviews drugs for being safe and effective. In other words, companies producing supplements can include substances that are not controlled by the FDA and claim that their products do just about anything whether or not they are safe or true.
Additionally, drugs and supplements are damaging the integrity and value of sports and why people play and watch them. When some people abuse substances to unnaturally improve their performance, they are no longer participating in fair competition with other athletes. That is why professional and Olympic athletes are tested in order to make sure that their records are earned without unfair advantage.
The only way to safely and honestly improve your performance in sports is to train hard and eat a healthy diet, high in protein - the building blocks of muscle - and to get energy from complex carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables to fuel your muscles, and to get enough rest. The way to better grades is to develop good study habits and not just cram before a test.
SADA - Students Against Drugs and Alcohol is a non-profit community service organization. SADA believes in educating today's youth about drugs the proper way before they are confronted with substances in their everyday life.