Teenagers may be risk-takers, but they wouldn't set out deliberately on a path to cripple their ability to think. At least that's the idea behind the new "Don't Be a Lab Rat" campaign launched by the state of Colorado and Denver and meant to discourage teen marijuana use.

It's an important effort — or at least could be if the "Lab Rat Cage" installations that have gone up around Denver don't become objects of ridicule among youth. Those cages are clever and visible, but they're also heavy-handed — and kids don't react well to over-the-top drug messages.

The campaign's overall message is well worth hearing, though. Controversial studies have suggested marijuana use among teens may cause lasting memory loss, reduction in IQ and schizophrenia. The campaign mentions these findings, while acknowledging it may be years before they can be proved or debunked. Then it basically asks teens whether they want to be the experimental volunteers who resolve the controversy by using marijuana.

The fact that the campaign cites sources for the studies (Duke, Bristol and Northwestern universities) while admitting the findings are disputed is an advance on simplistic past efforts to discourage pot use. In a state where adults have legalized possession and use of marijuana, kids need honest and factual information to reach informed opinions.

They need to be reminded not only that marijuana use entails risks, but perhaps heightened risk for people of their age.

Fortunately, marijuana legalization does not so far seem to have triggered a binge of new teen use. Results of the 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey released last week show that "30-day marijuana use [among high school students] fell from 22 percent in 2011 to 20 percent in 2013," according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The decline wasn't statistically significant, but it was certainly preferable to a spike the other way.

Proponents of marijuana use sometimes appear oblivious to the potential effects of their rhetoric on young people. If the Lab Rat campaign can provide a credible counterweight to glib claims of pot's harmlessness, it will be worth the investment.

 

—The Denver Post, Aug. 11