11 June 2012


I'm using the term "at-risk" not to refer to the risk of committing criminal activity, or to the risk of yielding to the temptation of addictive drugs, or the risk of academic failure.  My focus is on two aspects of life as a teenager in the U.S. ~

The Centers for Disease Control has released the results of a study which found that in 2011, for the first time ever, more American teens were smoking marijuana than cigarettes.  "A full 23 percent of students surveyed told the CDC that they had used marijuana within the last month, whereas just 18 percent said they had smoked cigarettes."  The findings are consistent with a 2011 study conducted by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which reports that "almost half of American teens (47 percent) said they have used marijuana at least once, representing a 21 percent increase over their 2008 study."

I'm not against the moderate use of marijuana by adults.  By any standard, among recreational substances marijuana is far and away the most harmless.  But the brains of children and teenagers are still developing, and to that extent pot presents a health risk similar to the early use of alcohol or tobacco.  THC, the principle psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, presents extremely low toxicity.  It does, however, contribute to a delayed motor response, acts as a mild depressant, and can lead to a dissociative state.  Frequent use is associated with disrupted linear memory and short-term memory, as well as impaired driving skills and judgment.  Equally troubling are the effects produced by inhaling marijuana smoke, which deposits four times the amount of tar in the human respiratory tract as tobacco does.

The concept of marijuana as a 'gateway drug' to other, more addictive and toxic drugs has been discredited.  In one sense, if young people are experimenting at all, I would rather it be with marijuana than with tobacco or alcohol.  But the biologist in me wishes that experimentation be postponed until one is in his/her early-to-mid 20s, when most brain development is complete.

Stop and Frisk.
Statistics show that young black and Latino men are disproportionately targeted in stop-and-frisk policing (see image above).  Here is an enlightening seven-minute discussion among three youths who are among the black and Latino males, ages 14-24, who account for 41.6 percent of NYPD stops (and other cities as well, it seems likely).  There are links at the bottom of the page to other videos related to minority issues.  It is a disgrace that racial profiling persists among law enforcement, whose job it is to "serve and protect" all citizens.

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