Will Human-Sized Rat Cages Stop Teen Marijuana Use?

A new campaign entitled “Don’t Be a Lab Rat” is taking on teenage marijuana use in Colorado and stirring up some serious debate in the process. The unique anti-weed campaign was officially unveiled yesterday, with organizers setting up several human rat cages around the state of Colorado. Each cage bears the message: “Because so much is still unknown about pot’s effects on kids’ brains, teens who do smoke it become unwitting research subjects.”

In addition to placing a couple of the nine-foot cages in the Fort Collins and Red Rocks areas, Denver residents saw two rat cages of their own; one at the Denver Public Library and another at a public skate park near Coors Field.

The Message

The lab-rat campaign has a simple message: If you’re under the age of 25 and smoking weed, you’re burning up precious brain cells. The displays also include photos of scientists in lab coats, holding signs that read: “Northwestern University scientists discovered that teen marijuana use caused lasting memory loss.”

In addition to the on-street efforts, Colorado’s “Don’t Be a Lab Rat” campaign launched its own website. Data from the site warns, “Scientists from Duke to Cambridge have uncovered a laundry list of troubling side effects. Schizophrenia. Permanent IQ loss. Stunted brain growth.” Television commercials also began running Monday, informing viewers that teenage marijuana use seriously stunts mental function and possibly causes long-term mental issues.

Rat Cages Rattled by Locals

As expected, the anti-weed message hasn’t gone over well with everyone. This is particularly true for the human rat cage placed at the Denver Skatepark. On the same day of its unveiling, vandals used spray paint to make a few choice alterations to the “Don’t Be a Lab Rat” props. A sign that states marijuana has “negative effects” was changed to “positive,” while another vandal wrote, “Smoking weed saved my life” on a sign attached to the rat cage.

Dr. Larry Wolk, head of the Colorado Health Department, says the graffiti doesn’t bother him. “If they are defacing it or doing something with regard to graffiti or gathering in the cages, at least they are taking notice … and let the debate occur,” he said.

Teens and Weed

Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) for the years 2002 through 2007 found that marijuana use among 12- through 17-year-olds is higher in states with legalized medical marijuana. Research from the National Institute of Drug Abuse reveals that 17 percent of people who start using marijuana between the ages of 13 and 25 become addicted. Evidence also indicates these teenagers are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, partake in risky sexual behaviors, and suffer poor school performance.

Related: Back to School: How to Protect Your Teen from Substance Abuse
Photos via CBS Denver

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