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Risks of Experimenting with Marijuana

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In the past decade, there's been a steady increase in the number of people entering treatment programs for problems with marijuana. The most recent data shows 220,000 people treated. And teenagers make up roughly one-third of these admissions.

Using marijuana early, before age 17, increases the odds of using other drugs, or abusing drugs or alcohol later in life. That's according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Doctor Barbara Hardy, associate director of the University of Utah Addiction Center, says the study supports the gateway hypothesis-- that kids who use alcohol or tobacco or marijuana are more likely to go on to use other drugs.

"For years we have speculated that there was some type of causal relationship, but we were only able to look at that retrospectively. This is the first study that I've seen that demonstrates this relationship in a prospective way," Dr. Hardy says.

Researchers from Washington University interviewed 311 sets of same sex twins, where only one twin had used marijuana before age 17.

They found that compared to twins who did not have early marijuana use, those who did were two to five times more likely to go on to use other drugs, or become dependent on drugs or alcohol.

Hardy says the study highlights an important area of drug prevention-- delaying the onset of use.

Nationwide, kids on average start smoking at 11, drinking alcohol at 12, and using marijuana at 13.

"If we can have someone delay the onset of use 19, 20, 21, then those folks are less likely to go on to use other drugs. This study is documenting that delaying that onset of first use is very important."

So what can parents do? Talk with your kids about drugs, about what's going on in their lives, who their friends are.

Being actively involved with your kids is critical. They might not always listen, but they are hearing what you're saying.

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