According to the Monitoring the Future survey, teen marijuana use is on the rise, particularly among eighth graders, the youngest group studied.

Why are more teens convinced that using marijuana isn’t harmful? The answer is—on your music player, your cell phone, your computer, your TV and from recent law changes.

In fact, the myth that marijuana is no big deal is nearly everywhere.

“The messages getting to young people are very mixed and probably contributing to the misperception that marijuana isn’t dangerous or harmful,” says Dr. Susan Weiss, a scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “We are concerned about this because we know that as teens’ perception of risk goes down, their use goes up.”

To make smart decisions about marijuana use and your health, you need to know essential facts about the effects of marijuana.

Many plants, including marijuana, have medicinal properties. But that doesn’t mean that in order to derive those medicinal benefits, we should smoke or ingest its raw, crude form. After all, we don’t smoke opium to get the benefits of morphine. Using marijuana can produce adverse physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral changes. Marijuana use  can harm the lungs, impair short-term memory, verbal skills, and judgment, and can also distort perception. In addition, marijuana has been associated with a number of mental conditions, including schizophrenia (psychosis), depression and anxiety.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—has not approved marijuana to treat any medical illness. The American Medical Association does not recommend smoking marijuana as a cure or palliative for any diseases (marijuana does not cure cancer)

Yes, marijuana is addictive. A user may feel the urge to smoke marijuana again and again to re-create the “high.” Repeated use could lead to addiction—which means the person has trouble controlling their drug use and often cannot stop even though they want to.

No one substance is safer than another. We have seen the negative impacts on society for alcoholics, so why encourage use of another substance.

Teens who used marijuana had odds of other drug use, alcohol dependence, and drug abuse/dependence that were 2.1 to 5.2 times higher than those who did not use before age 17 years. In particular, early access to and use of cannabis may reduce perceived barriers against the use of other illegal drugs and provide access to these drugs. Daily smokers of pot are 13x more likely to use heroin. Youth under the age of 15 who use marijuana are 85x more likely to use cocaine than non-users.

Studies show that use of THC during adolescence changes the way the brain develops. Marijuana’s harmful effects strike the hippocampus – an area that is critical for learning and memory.  Marijuana drains motivation and causes lack of motor-skill coordination and trouble thinking and problem solving. Marijuana causes anxiety, aggression and insomnia.

It is very unlikely for a person to overdose and die from marijuana use. However, people do injure themselves and die because of marijuana’s effects on judgment, perception, and coordination, for example, when driving under the influence of the drug. Also, people can experience extreme anxiety (panic attacks), aggression or psychotic reactions (where they lose touch with reality and may become paranoid).

Marijuana directly affects the part of the brain responsible for reaction time.  Smoking and driving nearly doubles your risk of an accident. Concentration is difficult; your coordination is in jeopardy; it’s hard to judge distance, speeds or identifying sounds. Marijuana stays in your system impairing your ability to drive long after the usage occured.

What we know about the adolescent brain now is significantly more than we knew 30 years ago. Increase in marijuana potency and the impact on the developing brain has long-lasting effects. Youth who smoke marijuana regularly, even just on the weekends, are more likely to drop out of school, are less likely to enter college, and are shown to have six to eight less IQ points over time than non-smokers.

Marijuana smoke contains 50-70% more carcinogenic smoke than tobacco. The airflow obstruction effects of smoking a marijuana joint are comparable to smoking two and a half to five cigarettes.