ROCKVILLE, Md. – It's nothing to LOL about.
Students these days often have ready access to marijuana, alcohol and tobacco but they don't feel comfortable talking about the ramifications. So, some of the nation's government scientists went to the computer chat room Tuesday to make it a little easier for them.
"How many drinks does it take to get you drunk?" asked anonymous at George Washington High School in California. "For a person of normal weight not used to alcohol, about four-five drinks within one hour," came the answer.
"Is it true that pot is not addicting? i heard rumors it wasn't?" asked x45 of Sanborn Regional High School in New Hampshire. "Yes. Long-term marijuana use leads to addiction in some people. That is, they cannot control their urges to seek out and use marijuana, even though it negatively affects their family relationships, school performance, and recreational activities," came the answer.
"Can you inherit addiction?" asked Hajira 6 of South County Secondary School in Virginia.
"The short answer is yes," answered one of the researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "The long answer is that genes play only part of the role in addiction." He added that the environment — such as having drugs around the house or hanging out with friends who do drugs — also plays a role.
By noon, about 6,000 questions had come in for NIDA's second-ever Drug Facts Chat Day. Because the questions vastly outnumber the researchers, the responses were not immediate, but many came in within the hour so that students could check back in before the end of the school day.
Joseph Frascella, a NIDA researcher, got many of the questions about drugs' effects on the brain. Some called for fairly scientific answers. Others for more of a personal touch, such as the one from a teenage girl who recounted her experiences with depression and her past use of marijuana. She wanted confirmation that she was doing the right thing by not smoking pot anymore. Frascella assured her that she was.
"The sophistication of some of the questions suggests that they're pretty knowledgeable about drugs," Frascella said.
Michelle Ngwafon, an 11th grader at Rockville High School asked how long it takes for date rape drugs to take effect. She knew someone who had been given such a drug but was not raped, she said.
"Date rape is unwanted sexual contact from someone you know, may have just met, and/or thought you could trust," researchers said in responding to her query. "A number of drugs have been used in date rape because they can become slipped in someone's drink and have no taste or smell. These include ketamine, rohypnol and gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB). These drugs can sedate a person and make them forget what happens to them."
Ngwafon said the chat room was a good idea that might help some kids who haven't tried drugs, but she was doubtful it would change the habits of those already involved.
"The people who already do drugs, I think they already know the side effects and they just don't care," she said.
Among youths from ages 12-17, about one in 10 acknowledge illicit drug use within the past month. The government says drug use in that age category has dropped slightly since 2002, as has the level of alcohol and tobacco use. About 15.6 percent of youths in that age group acknowledge alcohol use in the past month and about 9.8 percent say they smoked cigarettes.
Wendy Roit, a teacher at Rockville High School, who helped coordinate the question-and-answer session from the school, said she's a fan of using a chat room to let students ask questions without being embarrassed.
"Being on the computer gives them the anonymity. It gives them the freedom from their peers' judgment, and it gives them the opportunity to really walk away from here with the truth, with the facts that they're going to have with them when they have to make decisions in the future." Roit said.
Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, said she was surprised by the number of questions about prescription drugs, particularly questions that centered on whether they were as dangerous as illicit substances.
"It's abundantly clear that there has been a significant increase in the use of prescription medications among adolescents, Volkow said. "It's also clear there has been a lot of advertising to try to educate kids that indeed these medications, when used inappropriately, are as dangerous as illicit substances."
And while there were loads of serious questions, some helped lighten the mood, such as the one from "Yeah um, kay" at Sanborn Regional High School in New Hampshire: "Are you guys doctors or recovering alcoholics/drug addicts?"
"Hi there!," replied Richard Denisco. "We all have advanced degrees such as masters degrees, PhD.'s and MD's. We have all worked in the addiction field in some capacity — some as counselors, and some as recovering addicts. This allows us to give you the 'real story' and not just some information from a book. Thanks for your question."