We have a serious drug problem in Hendricks County in the form of heroin, but heroin is not the only drug that's out there. As we continue the conversation about drug abuse in our community and what we can do about it, it's important to educate ourselves about the drugs that OUR KIDS are exposed to.
We started with learning about heroin last week.
Now, let's learn about marijuana.
Obviously, Americans have differing opinions about the legality of marijuana and the actual harm done by it. This post is not designed to argue one viewpoint or another. It's to educate parents who presumably do not want their kids using marijuana for health, legal and/or moral reasons.
***WARNING: Graphic images ahead.***
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana is a mind-altering drug that is produced by the Cannabis sativa plant, the Cannabis indica plant, or one of the many hybrids of the two plant species. It's grown indoors and outdoors all over the world, and it's legal to use in some states here in the U.S.
It is not, however, legal to possess or use in Indiana. (Refer to Indiana Code 35-48-4-10 and 35-48-4-11.)
The active ingredient in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC.
In my years as a probation officer, the most common positive urine screen result -- by far, and without any competition -- was for cannabinoids (marijuana). Marijuana is exceedingly easy and inexpensive to secure.
What Does Marijuana Look Like?
A marijuana leaf is pictured at the top of this blog post, and that shape is a popular symbol of marijuana users and supporters, not unlike the maple leaf being a symbol of Canada.
This is not, however, what marijuana will look like if you find it in your kid's bedroom, jacket pocket, laundry, etc. (unless your kid is growing marijuana). Marijuana isn't consumed by plucking a leaf off a plant, rolling it up and smoking it.
Instead, marijuana that OUR KIDS might have will be a dried, shredded mixture of flowers, stems, seeds and leaves. It'll be brown, green and/or grey in color, and it can look something like cigarette tobacco. Something close to this:
What Do Users Call Marijuana?
As with most drugs, marijuana goes by a wide variety of slang names. Some of the most common are:
Additionally, "420" is a common reference to marijuana use. The origin of 420 goes back to 1971 and involves some California high schoolers (a whole bunch of urban legends as to the significance of 420 to marijuana are untrue), but the reference lives on today.
Users often celebrate April 20, or 4/20, of each year by using marijuana. That makes April 21 a fantastic day to give your kid a urine screen if you suspect him/her of partaking. I used to blanket-bomb my probationers with drug screens for a month after 4/20, always resulting in staggering numbers of positive tests for cannabinoids.
How is Marijuana Used?
Most commonly, marijuana is smoked, as one would smoke tobacco. It can be rolled into rolling papers (commonly referred to as a "joint" or a "spliff") and smoked like a cigarette, it can be smoked in hollowed-out cigars (commonly referred to as a "blunt"), or it can be smoked in a pipe or a water pipe (commonly referred to as a "bong"). Pipes and bongs come in a huge array of sizes, shapes, colors, etc.
Less common is to consume marijuana through mixing it with some sort of food product (think "pot brownies") or by brewing it as a tea.
What is Dabbing?
Marijuana users looking for a more efficient and more effective high have started turning to something called "dabbing."
Basically, highly-concentrated THC is extracted from marijuana plants in an oil form using a process involving butane. The result is a nugget with a hard, wax-like appearance that is known by several names:
The dab is then heated, usually with a butane lighter and usually on a nail, and then inhaled through a dab rig. Dab rigs look similar to marijuana bongs, and like bongs, they come in a huge array of shapes and sizes.
Dabs can also be heated and consumed through e-cigarettes or vaporizers (vapes).
What are Signs of Marijuana Use?
Some physical signs of marijuana use include:
Individually, these physical signs can be a result of something other than marijuana use, but in combination, they should steer parents in the direction of suspicion.
Some behavioral signs of marijuana use include:
Again, look for multiple indictors, not just one sign here or there.
Studies show that roughly 1 in 11 people who use marijuana become physically addicted to it. It's commonly viewed as a gateway drug to more serious and heavier drug use. Just because your kid uses marijuana doesn't mean that s/he will go on to use cocaine, heroin or any other heavy drug. But kids who use cocaine, heroin and other heavy drugs usually started their drug use by using marijuana.
Marijuana use has not been known to cause any overdose-related deaths.
What Do I Look For?
Unlike with heroin, parents are likely to find actual marijuana, in addition to marijuana paraphernalia.
Marijuana is messy, as you'd expect from any dried plant, plus users don't want to waste any, so it's generally stored in something that will securely contain the stash: plastic baggies, film canisters, prescription pill bottles, envelopes, metal candy or mint containers (such as Altoids containers), etc.
Look, too, for marijuana debris on dresser tops, nightstands, floors, etc. Again, as you'd expect from any dried plant, loose stems, seeds and other debris are commonly left behind.
As for drug paraphernalia, look for:
As a former probation officer, I found marijuana and paraphernalia in cigar boxes, Crown Royal bags, dressers, rolled up in clean socks, jacket pockets in a closet, night stands, under mattresses, glove compartments and center consoles of vehicles, and just about anywhere else that you can imagine hiding something.
How Long Does Marijuana Stay in a Person's System?
There are a ton of factors that go into how long marijuana will stay in a person's system. Users like to argue body weight, how fat they are, how much water they drink, vitamin intake, potency of the marijuana used, how long a person has been using, how much a person uses, and on and on.
In the probation department that I worked for, our urine drug screens had a low detection cutoff threshold, and they were tested using a very involved chemical process, so we could generally nab a marijuana user up to 30 days after use.
Home drug tests, however, are less sophisticated than the tests and the lab we used, and detection cutoff thresholds are higher (meaning that more THC has to be in the urine to register a positive reading than would have to be in a probation department drug screen), so reliable detection ranges top out at about two weeks, give or take a few days.
Most home kits' cutoff thresholds are 50 ng/mL. The unit of measure is unimportant. Just know that the lower the number before the "ng/mL," the less THC has to be in the urine sample to detect marijuana use.
There are countless urban legends about how to beat a drug screen. Companies make a ton of money selling "the magic pill" to drug users, promising that their product will guarantee passing a urine screen in a time of need (for employment, parents, probation/parole, etc.). The common denominator with all these products is that they're to be consumed along with huge amounts of water. The product doesn't do much of anything -- it's the flushing of the body's system with the water that has an effect.
The effect, however, is that the urine sample is crystal clear and looks like water instead of urine. Further, the lab that our probation department used tested for levels of creatinine -- a substance present in all mammals' urine -- and if those levels were lower than a normal human being's, it confirmed the officer's initial suspicion that the user tried to dilute his or her urine sample by drinking lots of fluids.
Other old wives' tales for beating a urine screen involve taking goldenseal herb (with copious amounts of water), drinking pickle juice, drinking vinegar, adding things to the urine sample (bleach and dishwasher soap seem to be the most common), and using someone else's urine -- usually in a bag taped to their leg with some sort of discreet hose to empty it, assuming the user is aware enough that many drug screen kits use temperature strips on the side of the cup to ensure proper temperature of the sample.
Female users also like to try to tell probation officers -- especially male probation officers -- that they can't provide a urine sample due to their menstrual period. Don't fall for that one. It's not true. Drugs can still be detected in urine provided at "that time of the month."
I tell you all of this gross stuff so that you can keep an eye out for signs that your kid is trying to beat a drug screen.
If you decide to give your kid a urine screen, the best suggestion that I have -- as gross and uncomfortable as it is -- is to watch your kid provide the urine sample. You should be able to see the urine exiting their body, and being a grown adult, you know what normal urination sounds like, smells like, looks like and feels like (temperature-wise). And dads, you should know the visual differences between a real penis and a plastic or rubber one while watching your son give a urine sample.
Trust your senses. If any of those things seem "off" while Junior is providing you a urine sample, Junior is probably trying to slip one past you -- and for good reason.
One last comment: if Junior tests positive for marijuana on a home urine screen and tells you, "I was around some people using marijuana, but I didn't use it," don't believe Junior. (That was always the first line of defense among probationers who tested positive for cannabinoids.)
A very recent (2015) study showed that second-hand marijuana smoke does not lead to positive urine screens except, perhaps, in extreme and unventilated circumstances. Even under those extreme circumstances, the effects are minor, and only one drug screen in the entire study with a cutoff of 50 ng/mL tested positive for marijuana due to second-hand smoke.
Villagers, we're not providing irrefutable evidence to a court of law here. We're simply parents trying to determine whether or not our kid is using drugs so that we can determine the next course of action. Let's use our heads; our pseudo-attorneys/children are only trying to "get off on a technicality" after we've caught them. Use common sense here and trust your instincts.
Is it possible to test positive due to extreme, unventilated second-hand marijuana smoke? Yes. Is it plausible that Junior was in such a situation? No. Even if Junior was, chances are extremely slim that he'd test positive as a result.
And if Junior does try to plead the "extreme, unventilated circumstances" case, it's also time to have a conversation with Junior about who he hangs out with and the decisions he makes.
(Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse; U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency; Livescience.com; Leafly.com; The Guardian; NBC News; The Cannabist; Leafscience.com; personal experience as a former probation officer)
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