One topic that is fiercely debated in our world today is the legalization of marijuana. The United States Federal Drug Administration has long held that marijuana did not have any medicinal value and that recreational use is addictive and destructive. Proponents of legalization site a variety of benefits ranging from the income produced through taxes, to the release of individuals in prison for “non-violent offences,” to the benefits of medicinal marijuana. In fact, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who is an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Emory University, and the chief medical correspondent for CNN, has now embraced the medical benefits of marijuana. Many states have decriminalized the possession of marijuana or legalized its use for medicinal purposes. Colorado and Washington State have legalized it for recreational purposes. In 2013, Gallop took a poll which indicated that 58% of Americans are in favor of legalization, and this is the first time that proponents of legalization were in the majority. Whether or not marijuana has medicinal benefits is a question for scientists to decide. With the trend toward the legalization of marijuana, it is imperative that all individuals understand one very significant fact: Teens are at a very significant risk of harm when they use marijuana.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the part of the brain that is responsible for instinctive and aggressive reactions develops early in life. However, the part of the brain that develops reasoning and impulse control does not fully develop until early adulthood. Therefore, during the teen years, an individual has the capacity to react on instinct and respond aggressively, while not having a fully developed capacity to reason or think prior to action. Of course, parents are responsible to teach and train as this part of the brain develops. When marijuana is added into that developing brain, the teen’s ability to make wise decisions is even more impaired. Dr. Madeline Meier, and her team at Duke University, researched the influence of consistent use of Marijuana and its impact on neurological functioning. They followed over 1,000 people from age 13 to age 38. The participants, who were identified as persistent marijuana users during their teen years, averaged an eight point reduction in their overall IQ or intelligence. Additionally, there was significant decline in executive functioning (emotional control, ability to self-start, planning/organization, self-monitoring), memory, brain processing speed, perceptions, and verbal comprehension. Finally, when those individuals stopped using marijuana, their level of functioning and overall IQ or intelligence did not return to its pre-marijuana levels. Therefore, when teens use marijuana persistently, it is literally like taking part of their intelligence, including executive functioning, and simply throwing it in the trash. Regardless of the legislators’ choices concerning the legalization of marijuana, the ultimate choice to use or not use mood altering substances like marijuana is a personal one. The Scriptures admonish us not to be drunk or intoxicated, but rather be filled with the Holy Spirit. Yet, we are also to be in the world but not of the world. Individuals, who are not followers of Jesus Christ, do not feel the need to conform to Biblical teaching. Therefore, condemning them for not following a set of rules that they do not accept is counterproductive. Rather, point them toward resources that can help with that issue and also point them to Jesus by example. When someone is using marijuana or other drugs, and desires to stop, the assistance of a medical professional is often needed. Twelve step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous can be tremendously helpful as well. These groups have a long tradition of individuals clearly accepting responsibility for the consequences of their choices. If members of the Church had the openness of their life struggles like members of AA and NA have, then the Church would experience revival. Remember, the Christian life has been described as one person, who used to be hungry, showing another person, who is starving, where the bread is located. Finding ways to help teens understand the dangers and long term implications of marijuana use without being judgmental may be a way to point toward the Bread of Life.