Fully or partially legalized in many states, a solid majority of teens and young adults believe marijuana should be universally decriminalized, viewing weed as a relatively harmless drug in comparison to alcohol. Its use is widespread among affluent young in high school and college. For example, at one local school I hear students toke up to obtain a better grasp on abstract concepts in their advanced physics class.
As of 2013, one in 11 male college students are daily smokers. With marijuana use and acceptance on the rise, we advise diffusing this momentum with facts on how it affects the brain (both positive and negative) and a behavioral-based management strategy.
Why bother worrying?
As pot becomes increasingly legitimized across the country, now is a good time for family offices to get up to speed on the implications for clients and office operations. You might think, “Why bother?”
- And, indeed, that is a fair question if your approach is to oversee investments, disburse and account for income, advise on estate planning, and leave personal conduct issues up to the individual.
Marijuana can be viewed as just another substance that clients may choose to use as part of their lifestyle. Some regular smokers even tend to be “laid back” and therefore less time-consuming and demanding compared to other clients.
When it becomes a problem
Conversely, other regular smokers may be more difficult to deal with in family meetings.
- They ask disruptive questions and go off on tangential trains of thought.
- They are susceptible to harebrained investment schemes, being easily talked into being the deep-pocket “lead partner” to show their family they can be successful – despite being chronically high.
- You may also have unhappy grandparents when they discover their beloved granddaughter is moving to Colorado to raise goats after they “invested” several hundred thousand in her private school education.
So identifying the source of this behavior, understanding what marijuana does to a user and why so many find it so appealing may be helpful in responding to these unhappy senior family members. If your office or family leadership is also concerned about encouraging young adults to develop competitive skill sets and lead productive lives, as well as avoiding addictive behavior patterns, then I suggest you read on.
Consuming THC – the delivery system
THC is marijuana’s primary psychoactive ingredient. Levels today can exceed 25 percent, as compared to 3 percent in the ’90s. And as users ingest higher concentrations of THC at more frequent intervals, the chances of addiction and other disorders increases. In addition, there are many other psychoactive chemicals (cannabinoids) that are fine-tuned through plant breeding to create different strains to increase potency and appeal to consumer tastes.
Note that CBD and related cannabinoids are cultivated for their medicinal properties, lack any noticeable psychoactive affects and are generally sold in pills or other edibles. Exception: Pot for treating pain has THC, one reason why so so many young adults carry generalized pain diagnoses in medical marijuana states.
There are four stairways to heaven:
Burning: pipe, joint
- Hits the lungs in minutes, lasts about two hours, but is an irritant.
- Solves the irritation problem and is hard to detect. Oil can go into an e-cig chamber.
- THC is processed through the liver, resulting in a delayed high.
- Placing concentrated hash oil against a heated surface and inhaling the smoke. These extracts have up to 90 percent THC levels and result in a rapid and very intense high.
Brain scan information[i]
From brain scans, we now have a good understanding of how pot affects various areas of the brain and the ensuing feelings:
In your brain:
- Basal Ganglia: Controls many of the brain’s reward system, the part that makes you feel high
- Amygdala: Responsible for paranoia and anxiety in smokers
- Hypothalamus: Gives stoners time warp and munchies
- Hippocampus: Pot mimics a temporary brain lesion, which is why smokers can’t recall so much of their high
- Cerebellum: Nexus of motor control, especially coordination and timing, becomes sluggish under effects of cannabis
- Brain Stem: Charged with autonomic functions like breathing and heart rate, devoid of cannabinoid receptors, which is why virtually no one fatally overdoses on pot
The last fact, that THC does not lead to overdoses, is one reason why potheads believe weed is far superior to alcohol.
In your mind:
- Euphoria: The brain’s reward circuit kicks into action and intensifies feelings – usually a pleasurable experience.
- Dysphoria: Opposite effect, for those already anxious, fearful, or worried about the increasing heart rate. Reported by 40-50 percent of users.
- Distortion Perception: THC’s affect on the amygdala and release of dopamine induces state of absorption, can make things more vivid, and result in sound and visual distortions.
- Time Lag: THC speeds up internal clocks so stoned people overestimate how much time has passed while high.
- Memory Impairment: Short-term memory affected due to neural interactions and modifications.
Oh, to be back in college, or not!
Similarly we, have a good understanding of the physiological impact on the body:
- Dry/cotton mouth: Lagging salivary gland response time slows the secretion of spit.
- Bloodshot Eyes: With lowered blood pressure, capillaries in the eyes widen and blood fills the void. Dilated pupils can also make it difficult to focus on nearby objects.
- Increased Heat Rate: In as little as 10 minutes, heart rate can spike to 160 and stay elevated for a few hours.
- Drowsiness: THC can interfere with REM and stage-four sleep for up to five days.
- The Munchies: Causes the hypothalamus to produce enzymes that increase hunger and messages that let your body know you’re full.
THC is stored in fat cells and is released into the blood stream for two to four weeks or more, depending on amount and intensity of prior use – one reason why professional athletes flunk drug tests while in training camp.
Have a real conversation
The best way to have a real conversation about pot is to acknowledge what’s good about getting high: It lubricates social interactions, dissipates boredom and stress, and enhances perception and euphoria. Just saying it’s all bad does not resonate with younger people and causes most to end the conversation or stop listening to the lecture.
For some, the not-so-good aspects include amplified anxiety, lack of motivation, and expense. Allowing people to express these experiences while also talking about the enjoyable aspects helps take the conversation to a deeper, more nuanced level.
For regular users, one in six teenagers and one of 11 adults become substance-dependent, with many adolescents seeking help when psychosis takes hold. With the brain developing into the mid-20s, young people who smoke early and often are more likely to have learning and mental health problems due to structural changes in the amygdala (processing memories and emotions) and the nucleus accumbens (decision-making and motivation).
As one expert, Dr. Hans Breiter, noted:
“If I were to design a substance that was bad for college students, it would be marijuana.”
It’s also bad for office staff as THC can impair focus, working memory, decision-making, and motivation for about 24 hours. Not exactly the qualities family offices and advisors are specifying in their job descriptions.
As with alcohol, moderate marijuana use among young adults might be professionally and socially acceptable. But its side effects and legality call into question how families and family offices should treat it. So as recreational marijuana use becomes legalized, de facto legalized or decriminalized in more states, it’s crucial for families and family offices to be proactive when dealing with their psychoactive offspring and clients. In Part II, we’ll talk more about how to go about this and what approaches and policies are most effective, including education and setting behavioral standards and performance expectations.
[i] The following information on the science of the weeds impact on the body is taken from a December 2014 article in New York Magazine titled “Your Grandmother’s Guide to Pot.”