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“420” is a code word for smoking marijuana, with origins in the 1970’s California counter-culture, and as a result April 20 (4/20) is celebrated by pot smokers around the world. However, U Need 2 Know that 420, or any day, is not a good day to smoke marijuana, especially if you are pregnant or if you are younger than 25.

Young users lose most

Dr. Jamal Wasan, founder of Lokahi Treatment Centers in Waikoloa and island-wide, explained that marijuana use, like alcohol use, can cause permanent brain damage, including serious loss of IQ points.

“A long-term study in New Zealand, over 35 years actually showed an eight-point drop in IQ tests for people who started smoking at age 13,” said Wasan. “It happens because the frontal cortex—the part of the brain that controls executive functioning—is being impaired by cannabinoids.”

Wasan compared the brain damage to a frontal lobotomy without the incision.

“According to the study, this is non-recoverable; you don’t get it back,” said Wasan. “A person might be very bright and functioning OK at an average level, 110-115 IQ. Take away eight points, to the 102-107 level, and they are not actually very bright anymore.”

“There are consequences for youth that we need to be aware of,” said Wasan. “To affect keikis growing up—that’s not right.”

Pakalolo and pregnancy

Even before they are born, a child’s IQ can be impacted by marijuana from their mother. Since 2007, Children’s Research Triangle-Hawaii have screened 3,153 pregnant women for alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. Overall, 49.4 percent had a positive screening. Half of pregnant mothers were drinking, smoking or using drugs during the month before they learned they were pregnant.

More than half of those women continued the pattern after they knew they were pregnant. That means about one in four babies born in Hawaii have been exposed to harmful substances. No amount of alcohol or drugs is safe for a pregnant woman or her baby, throughout the course of pregnancy.

A baby’s brain grows rapidly during the third trimester, folding in on itself naturally to fit inside the skull. More folds in the brain give it more surface area, and the more surface area, the higher that child’s IQ potential. However, children exposed to harmful substances in the womb develop fewer folds of their brains, which can mean lower IQ. Harmful substances include drugs, tobacco, alcohol and marijuana, regardless of its legal status.

Certificate does not mean safety

There are other risks for marijuana users of any age, with or without a medical marijuana certificate. Wasan said that marijuana blocks judgment and slows reflexes, making it dangerous to drive under the influence. It can trigger psychotic breaks in some people, and there is no way to predict when that may occur.

“There are benefits—we know that—but you cannot prescribe marijuana dosage,” Wasan said. “You don’t know the strength.” Although there are synthetic alternatives in pill form, physicians cannot prescribe marijuana. It is a Schedule 1 Drug (i.e. having no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse). In order to be tested and researched, it would need to be changed to Schedule 3.

Wasan is an advocate for that change in order to further needed research. Meanwhile, he believes strongly that we need to pay attention to who is writing the 10-12,000 medical marijuana certificates in Hawaii, and why they are being written.

“They (legislators) listened to the public but didn’t set parameters correctly. They didn’t go to the American Medical Association; they didn’t go to primary care physicians. They didn’t do their homework, and instead went with the public opinion,” said Wasan. “In my professional opinion, they really need to sit down with the right people – professionals who work in the area of psychiatry, the American Society of Addiction Medicine—they need to talk to them and they haven’t.”

On April 20, let’s prove we have learned something since the 70’s. Instead of lighting up at 4:20, let’s take time to talk—to kids, to each other, to medical professionals and legislators—about putting protective factors and prevention strategies in place, and making smart decisions that make sense for all of us.

The North Hawaii Drug-Free Coalition, a project of Five Mountains Hawaii, is a regional volunteer organization committed to developing strong, sustaining relationships for Healthy Communities Choosing to Live Drug Free. For more information, visit