Drug addiction experts weigh in on 4/20 celebrations

Drug addiction experts weigh in on 4/20 celebrations

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Growing popularity over the medical and recreational use of marijuana has created changes to state laws and cultural outlooks on the drug in recent years according to new research and local experts.

The issue comes to light again Wednesday as some are using April 20, or 4/20, to celebrate unofficial "Weed Day."

The "holiday" to some may see increasing popularity as public opinion on marijuana starts to shift. However, local drug addiction experts say parents should be cautious if they find out their child or teen is getting in on the action.

The number of posts about 4/20 on social media sights like Facebook and Twitter are sky high. The photo sharing page Instagram for example reels in more than 16 million posts for 4/20, or the commonly known unofficial "weed holiday."

4/20's popularity can even be on the social media app Snap Chat, with a controversial Bob Marley filter appearing Wednesday, and the "celebrations" might continue to grow in years to come. New studies show marijuana legalization has reached a 56 percent approval rate compared to 53 percent last year.

The highest approval age group comes in at those 18 to 34 years old, with 71 percent approval for legalization, but drug addiction counselors in Columbus say they still consider the drug to be harmful. Experts continue to call marijuana a gateway drug.

"A lot of people in the community would maybe think that's a little cliche," said Rebecca Watkins with the Columbus drug-addiction center Bradford Health Services.

Bradford Health Services experts say cliche aside, research supports it.

"Everybody that smokes marijuana may not do any other illicit drug or prescription pills or anything of that nature, however when we look at people that have done other illicit drugs or prescription pills, they all start with smoking weed," said Watkins.

While popularity continues to climb, experts say parents need to be on the lookout. Recreational usage is still illegal in Georgia and Alabama, and could have negative health effects.

"Their brains aren't fully developed until their early 20's and when you start smoking marijuana before the adult threshold, then yes it is very harmful and can effect the brain development," said Watkins.

Experts say run-ins with the law over marijuana usage could effect teens negatively when trying to get into colleges or jobs later in life. Experts also say parents can look for the age-old signs like behavioral changes, the smell of marijuana on clothes or hair, and changes in friend groups if you think your child is using the drug.

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