This letter and reply appeared in a recent “Dear Abby” column:
Teen’s pot use puts friend in tough spot
I’m a senior in high school. Every day during lunch, one of my friends goes outside and smokes weed with a couple of his friends. He comes back from lunch with red eyes and smelling of smoke, and his behavior indicates he’s high. I’m not sure if they smoke on or off campus, but I know it isn’t legal at their age (17) and especially not at school. I saw a joint in his pocket a couple of times, and he told me to keep it a secret.
Abby, this has me very uncomfortable. If he wants me to keep it a secret, he must know it’s wrong. I don’t know how to tell someone or even who I should tell. I know he has depression and weed can “take the edge off,” but that doesn’t make it OK.
What should I do? Should I tell anyone? And if so, who and how?
Fretting in Washington State
It’s surprising to me that your friend returns from lunch showing all of the signs of being stoned, and none of his teachers have picked up on it. Haven’t his grades suffered?
While it is not uncommon for people who are depressed to try to self-medicate with illegal substances, it’s not nearly as successful as dealing with their emotions by talking about them with a medical professional and can sometimes make the problem worse. The person to confide in about this would be a trusted teacher or school counselor. Please don’t wait.
Abby seems to need some advice herself on marijuana and the marijuana laws. I’m going to respond to her response and hope she will avail herself of an opportunity to learn more and be a better counselor to her readers:
Thank you for paying attention to teenagers caught in the current social conflict over marijuana and its use. But you ignored the bigger half of the problem. Yes, a few –very few – teens face problems arising from their use of marijuana, but vast numbers of them face much more serious problems from their encounters with marijuana laws.
First, her friend’s use of marijuana is extremely unlikely to do him harm. It presents virtually no health risks. No one has ever been shown to have died from a marijuana overdose or from any medical side effects or from marijuana complications or contributions to long term diseases. Several long-term studies tracking thousands of patients for longer than twenty years have found no health differences between marijuana users and abstainers. While a few argue than marijuana is addictive, the weight of evidence rebuts that contention. A few may develop a weak compulsive use, but those are easily able to break their habits, often without help.
Apparently his teachers have not noticed any bad effect on his academic performance, and there have probably been none. Studies show that marijuana use is more common in high performing students – both academically and in extra-curricular activities – than in those in the middle of the class. Just ask Prof. Carl Sagan, astronomer, NASA consultant, and creator of the PBS “Cosmos” series, or Dr. Lester Grinspoon, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School – or thousands of Silicon Valley computer scientists and engineers. If, as your correspondent reports, he suffers from depression or anxiety, the marijuana may actually improve both his school work and his behavior. Marijuana has been shown to be helpful for both of these disorders. And with mental health services now unavailable or unaffordable for most people, his self-medication with marijuana may be his best option.
His marijuana use does put him at risk, but not because of its effects on his mind or body. The risk comes from the dangers imposed by the laws prohibiting marijuana. If the school learns of his marijuana use, he will probably be placed in alternative schooling or expelled. Either of these actions would make his high school graduation unlikely and probably preclude college.
Even worse, the school administrators would be required to report his activity to the police; and a conviction for marijuana possession, even one resulting in probation rather than a jail sentence could destroy his future. In most states he would lose his driver’s license for a least two years. He would become ineligible for student financial aid, necessary for many college students. In many places he could not rent an apartment and would be barred from many jobs.
In short, telling teachers or school counselors about his marijuana use would do much more harm to his future than his continuing marijuana would. While your correspondent may want to discuss her own use of marijuana, current or contemplated, with her parents, she should never tell any adult about another’s use unless compelled by subpoena. The effects on that person’s future could be much, much worse than marijuana will be.
If she feels like she must talk to someone, she should ask her teachers and counselors why they endanger students by not speaking up for and working for reform of the marijuana laws.
And that’s also a good question for Dear Abby.
A concerned Reader