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Teen Girls' Health

Going to Pot: The Risks of Smoking Marijuana

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By Jennifer Ashton, M.D., Ob-Gyn with Christine Larson
WebMD Feature by “The Body Scoop for Girls”


One of my patients, Beth, sixteen, smoked pot several times a week. Her mom knew about it but was afraid if she told Beth to stop, it would make things worse. “Then she’d just do it behind my back,” her mother told me.

Did You Know?

Fewer Teens Are Smoking Pot

The number of high school students smoking marijuana is dropping. In 1999 nearly half of high school students had tried pot. Today that’s dropped to 38 percent of all high schoolers, and just 34 percent of girls. That’s great news.

I told Beth the facts about marijuana and encouraged her to quit.

“The health risks of smoking pot are the same as, maybe even greater than, those for smoking cigarettes. Smoking a joint can cause lung cancer, too,” I told her.

I also talked to her about how marijuana works. I explained that marijuana, which comes from the cannabis plant, contains more than four hundred chemicals. Even though it’s the most commonly used illegal substance in the United States—about 34 percent of high school girls have tried pot at least once—it has all kinds of risks. In addition to the cancer risks that come from any kind of smoking, pot has a powerful effect on the brain. In the short term it might make you mellow or giddy. If you’ve ever known anyone who smokes a lot of marijuana, you’ve probably already noticed the long-term effects, which can include the loss of mental sharpness and focus.

Pot also poses another danger that cigarette smoking doesn’t. Because it’s an illegal substance, there are no rules and regulations making sure marijuana is pure and hasn’t been tampered with. Sometimes marijuana is laced with other dangerous substances, such as PCP (angel dust), a dangerous hallucinogenic. There’s absolutely no way to know what you’re actually smoking. The one thing you do know for sure is that the pot was made and distributed by people breaking the law. Are those the folks you want deciding what you put in your body?

I don’t know if my advice sank in with Beth. But at least she heard the facts from a doctor and had the chance to make her own choice.

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