Educating About the Risks and Costs of Marijuana

We know marijuana is dangerous to many users and addictive to some, and that young people are particularly vulnerable. These facts cannot be lost in the ongoing debates over expanding availability and use.

As the nation's largest nonprofit provider of addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has an important responsibility, and is uniquely qualified, to comment on the effects of marijuana use, which we see every day among the people we serve at our 16 locations around the country.

We know marijuana is dangerous to many users and addictive to some, and that young people are particularly vulnerable. While the debates over expanding availability continue, many young people view marijuana as less risky, and not surprisingly, more and more of them are smoking marijuana for the first time.

Early use of marijuana is especially troubling. The human brain develops throughout adolescence and well beyond. Marijuana use can harm learning, thinking and memory development and can contribute to mental health issues, not to mention medical problems. We also know the earlier a young person starts to use any mood and mind altering substance, the greater the possibility of developing addiction. One of the recurring themes we hear from the youth we treat is regret - of wasted time, lost opportunities, squandered talent, impaired memory, reduced performance and disinterest in healthy activities.

Expanded social acceptance will almost certainly result in more new users, higher frequency of use among established users and increases in marijuana-associated health and social problems.

Therefore, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation opposes any efforts that increase the availability of marijuana and minimize the dangers of its use.

We believe strongly in the paramount importance of educating the public, especially young people and their parents, about the dangers and potentially addictive dynamics of all drugs, including marijuana.

And, while we oppose the use of marijuana as a "medicine" unless it has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), we understand the cannabis plant has some medicinal qualities and support further research.

While there are a number of additional issues and proposals surrounding the wider marijuana debate, we believe our expertise, experience and energy is best applied to educating the public about the dangers of expanded drug and alcohol use as well as the promise and possibility of recovery.

This statement reflects the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's clear and singular aim of reducing the harmful impact of addiction.

Prevention and Education for Communities