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Swiss Study Finds Marijuana Use Alone May Benefit Some Teens, U.S. Doctor

Monday, November 05, 2007

Teens that use cannabis may function better than teen tobacco-users, and
appear to be more socially driven and have fewer psychosocial problems
than those who do not use either substance, according to a Swiss survey.

Researchers at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland surveyed 5,263
students, including 455 who smoke marijuana only, 1,703 who smoke
marijuana and tobacco and 3,105 who smoked neither one.

The survey, which will be published in the November issue of Archives of
Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, found that marijuana-only smokers had
better relationships with friends, better grades and were more likely to
play sports than teens who smoked tobacco and those who abstained from
both substances.

A U.S. substance abuse expert disagreed with the study and said U.S. teens
should not be encouraged to use marijuana, particularly since teenagers’
brains are still developing at this time.

“Switzerland is very liberal compared to us in many ways,” Dr. Edwin
Salsitz, senior physician of chemical dependency at Beth Israel Medical
Center. “In general, it’s not a good idea for teenagers to use
psychoactive drugs. The brain is still developing until the age of 21.

“Maybe (there’s) a cultural bias there that says it’s ok to use
marijuana once or twice a month,” he continued “But from what I know,
I’ve never heard that anyone thought it was beneficial. Most experts
here would say that it’s not a good idea to use cannabis before the age
of 15, because it interferes with school and the development of brain.”

Researchers found that marijuana-only users had the following

— More likely to be male (71.6 percent marijuana smokers versus 59.7
percent of teens who used tobacco and marijuana)

— Play sports (85.5 percent vs. 66.7 percent of tobacco and marijuana)

— Live with both parents (78.2 percent vs. 68.3 percent of tobacco and

— Have good grades (77.5 percent vs. 66.6 percent of tobacco and

Cannabis-only smokers were also less likely to have been drunk in the past
30 days, less likely to use cannabis before the age of 15 and less likely
to use marijuana more than once or twice in the past 30 days. They were
also less likely to use other illegal drugs, compared to students who used
both substances, researchers found.

“The gateway theory hypothesizes that the use of legal drugs (tobacco
and alcohol) is the previous step to cannabis consumption,” the authors
wrote. “However, recent research also indicates that cannabis use may
precede or be simultaneous to tobacco use and that, in fact, its use may
reinforce cigarette smoking or lead to nicotine addiction independently of
smoking status. In any case, and even though they do not seem to have
great personal, family, or academic problems, the situation of those
adolescents who use cannabis but who declare not using tobacco should not
be trivialized.”

In comparison to students who abstained from both substances,
marijuana-only smokers were:

— More likely to be male (71.6 percent cannabis users vs. 47.7 percent
of teens who abstained)

— Have a good relationship with friends (87 percent vs. 83.2 percent)

— Be sensation-seeking (37.8 percent vs. 21.8 percent)

— Play sports (85.5 percent vs. 76.6 percent)

— Less likely to have a good relationship with their parents (74.1
percent vs. 82.4 percent)

The fact that some students who smoked marijuana were less likely to have
a good relationship with their parents wasn’t surprising to Salsitz.
“The way to look at it is to look at alcohol as an analogy,” he said.
“Do adults or teens who use alcohol have better relationships than those
abstinent? That’s just not true. It looks like if you smoke marijuana
and not tobacco, it’s better for you.”

He said the study should be viewed in terms of culture. “In France,
people drink wine with food, but they don’t get drunk,” he said.
“Kids also start doing this when they are young, and that’s different
from here. I don’t think anyone would say that the active ingredient in
marijuana is doing anything good in the brain, compared to abstaining or
smoking tobacco, so there must be cultural reason for this happening.”


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