Marijuana is a common conversation topic for many people these days. The Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention would like to insert a breath of fresh air in the form of thoughtful information to the conversation.

The alliance is a coalition of organizations and people dedicated to reducing substance abuse and building community in southern Kennebec County. We have growing concern about the mixed messages people are hearing regarding marijuana use; there are health consequences associated with marijuana use that need to be understood.

Marijuana today is not like it used to be. It has a very high THC content, meaning it is much stronger than it used to be, according to a 2010 article in the Journal of Forensic Science. Because of the increased strength, there can be greater individual and community risks from use. Young people are at a higher risk when using marijuana since their brains are still developing.

Research shows that one in six young people who use marijuana on a weekly basis will become addicted, according to the Neuropsychopharmacology journal and a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Additionally, research shows that when youth use marijuana regularly their potential to develop depression and or anxiety doubles, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the British Medical Journal.

Car safety is another area where marijuana use is a concern. Marijuana is known to affect reflex response time and attention, according to the British Medical Journal, This can place the driver and others on the road at increased risk of bodily harm or death because these factors greatly increase the chance of being in a car crash. Drugged driving is a big concern on the road these days, putting all drivers at risk for accidents.

Finally, regular marijuana use can affect the quality of relationships. People who use more marijuana report depressed levels of satisfaction with their daily relationships, according to the journal Addiction. As with any drug, whether it is caffeine or something stronger, marijuana changes how people view and respond to the world. The effect of marijuana on response time and perceptions can result in people not being responsive to the needs of others, according to research by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.

Examples could include being less attentive while caring for young children or not being able to build relationships as strongly through daily conversations. A lack of responsiveness to other people can affect family dynamics, friendships and working relationships.

The alliance encourages thoughtful consideration when having conversations about marijuana. We invite people to consider the health and well-being of themselves, first and foremost, as well as that of their family and community. Their safety and the safety of others depend on the choices each person makes, which is why people need to learn about the health risks of using marijuana.

The Rev. Nancee Campbell is co-chairwoman for the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, Gardiner.