Marijuana & Youth 101

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Although Colorado has allowed legal sales of marijuana to recreational users for more than four years now, confusion about the drug persists.

“With new strains of marijuana and new means of use being developed … it is clear that marijuana in 2018 is a different product than what many parents and older adults experienced when they were younger,” said Paul Reich, Tri-County Health Network behavioral health program manager.

Ergo, Reich saw a teaching opportunity, and recruited presenters from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) to come to Telluride and conduct a “Marijuana and Public Health” workshop.

The workshop, which was held Wednesday morning, packed the Telluride Community Room with 25 people, including school board members, parents, mental-health professionals, Dr. Diana Koelliker from the Telluride Medical Center, Telluride Marshal Jim Kolar, Telluride council member Geneva Shaunette and more.

Leading the discussion were CDPHE’s Jessica Neuwirth, marijuana education and youth prevention coordinator, and Dr. Daniel Vigil, manager of the marijuana health monitoring and research program. They presented a packet chock full of information — some of it bearing good news for San Miguel County parents.

For instance, survey results from middle and high school students show that legalization for adults has not caused a spike in use by Colorado youths. In fact, the percentage of young respondents who used marijuana in 2009 (five years before legalization) was 25 percent; when surveyed in 2015, the percentage dropped to 21 percent. In other words, a large majority of Colorado high schoolers — 78 percent — do not use pot.

Additionally, they learned that adults can help reduce youth marijuana use. Supportive teachers, talks with parents and family rules all make youth 1.6 to 1.7 times less likely to use weed. Meanwhile, the opinion of parents is a more significant deterrent: Research shows that if a parent feels like pot is wrong, their kids are 4 times less likely to use it.

Said Reich, “Participants learned that they, as trusted adults, are the best source for giving youth accurate information (about pot). Kids tend not to believe the government.”

Neuwirth began the workshop with an explanation of pot-tax revenues and how they’re allocated in the Colorado government. Then Vigil — a government-employed doctor with his shirt tucked neatly into his slacks —taught some Marijuana 101, sounding somewhat like a dispensary budtender.

“The two main strains of cannabis are sativa and indica,” he explained. “Sativa leads to activity and indica to relaxation, though vendors seldom sell pure strains of either. These days, most available flower — flower being green, leafy smokeable cannabis — comes as a hybrid.” He discussed edibles and concentrates, then detailed the differences between vaping and dabbing, and how “ear wax shatter” is ignited with a crème brulee torch.

The meat of the workshop ensued, moving from marijuana approaches to young children (ages 0-8), to adolescents (ages 9 to 17) and finally to young adults (ages 18 to 24).

Participants at each table discussed pot discussion scenarios. One example: You are a teacher and student comes to class smelling of marijuana … what do you do?  

The responses were thoughtful and varied, said Reich. “Some (participants) felt it should be handled by the teacher without consequences (i.e., being sent to principal), the school board members felt the student would likely be sent to the principal” and others wondered if perhaps the student “smelled that way because mom or dad was smoking in the car on the way to school.”

Participants in the workshop “learned about substance use statistics and about some of the studies related to marijuana use in youth — which ones were good and had substantial evidence, and which ones had flaws,” Reich said. “For example, there is substantial evidence that marijuana use by adolescents is strongly associated with developing psychotic symptoms in adulthood, such as hallucinations and paranoia, and that the risk is higher with more frequent use and with those who start using at younger ages. Conversely, there is insufficient or mixed evidence to support claims that lower IQ scores are associated with use by adolescents.”

The workshop piqued attendees’ interest for three-plus hours, Reich noted. The attendance, he said, “was pretty impressive” given the same session drew only 15 the previous day in the larger town of Gunnison.

By: Rob Story, Telluride Daily Planet

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