Normalization of Cannabis Use Among Teens

Next Monday is an international holiday for marijuana enthusiasts everywhere known as 420. If you don’t know much about this celebration, please read my blog about the history of 420.  Also, many states like Colorado  have produced a media campaign of photos showing the normalization of cannabis use among adults in advance of 420. Below are pictures showing adults from the ages of 30-60 in social situations using cannabis. Making adults feel comfortable about cannabis use can have a big impact on their positive views about teen use. 

Marijuana and a Movie

Blunts and BBQ
How Each Generation Views Legalization

Since it is becoming more accepted in our culture and schools that teens are using marijuana daily, there is a big movement to change drug prevention education. Although four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use, the Federal Government still considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug and opposes national legalization due to its high potential for addiction and lack of medical benefits. Teens often have misinformation regarding the differences between recreational and medicinal legalization and which states currently allow recreational use.  Pointing students to the National Conference of State Legislatures to find out about the laws of each state regarding marijuana use can help them stay out of legal trouble.  

Teen Marijuana Use

Although teen marijuana use has remained stable (which is positive in a way),  more teens are using marijuana and looking for more potent forms.

Marijuana Use is Highest Among Seniors in High School

Among Illicit Drugs, Marijuana is #1

 Now, let’s have a short lesson in marijuana potency.  Marijuana potency has increased substantially since the 1970’s (this is even admitted by Cheech Marin one of the biggest advocates for recreational marijuana). Researchers have found that the average THC levels in marijuana have increased substantially from 3% in the 70s and 80s to 12% in 2012 (some are reported as high as 28%!).  Originally, these more concentrated strains of marijuana were produced in labs for medicinal purposes; however, growers now strive to create the highest strains possible in order to win awards at the Cannabis Cup Competition. The potential harm of this competition is that marijuana is becoming everything its proponents said it was not-harmful! The effects of marijuana have been well documented and with higher potency levels the effects will only intensify.

Although not immediate, there are negative impacts to marijuana use

Resource:  Truth About Marijuana

So what is the big deal if students come to school high?  Well, there are several concerns about the impact of marijuana on students. Cannabis effects teens’ ability to concentrate which can impact school completion;  there is a greater risk of dependence if use begins in adolescence; a higher risk of criminal behavior;  risk for injury when driving or using machinery;  and lower life satisfaction in their relationships.  

Marijuana impacts every part of the brain as it attaches to cannabinoid receptors impacting coordination & learning

As counselors, one of our goals is to help prepare students for their future. Part of that preparation includes education about the potential hazards of drug use on teens and their future. As marijuana becomes more potent, school counselors need to provide students and parents with the right information before they are influenced by the new” pot entrepreneurs”.  Here are some of the celebrities cashing in on the new cash crop.

Source:  Willie Nelson is Set to Launch His Own Marijuana Brand

Is the Marijuana Industry Becoming the Next Tobacco Industry?

 Teen Cannabis Use

There are many reasons teens start using cannabis.  However, societal attitudes around marijuana use can influence students to start using in middle school.  Researchers found that the earlier cannabis is used by adolescents the more addicted they become to the drug. In addition, those who start early often desire a stronger strain of marijuana. 
Source: Risk Factors for Marijuana Use

In Colorado, Austin Gilliam, general manager of Kine Mine dispensary, found that higher strains of marijuana are flying off the shelves and seems to be very popular with teens. Those who are against legalization worry that the popularity of marijuana concentrates pose many dangers to teens.  Some of these dangers include: addiction, mental illness, and “motivational syndrome” or the condition in which the person loses interested in doing much of anything including school or work.

 One way to make this higher strain is to produce marijuana in a concentrated form called dabs or ear wax (some reports say one dab is equivalent to smoking three joints) which is made using solvents like butane or lighter fluid. Making dabs outside of the lab is very dangerous for teens because butane is a explosion risk because it is so highly flammable. Unfortunately, many people have been severely burned making cannabis extracts. Also, dabs can be extremely dangerous because it contains contaminants.

Dabbing wax can easily be mistaken for lip balm

As wax becomes more popular with teens, they are finding creative ways to smuggle it into schools. Since dabs looks like lip balm, teens can bring it in lip balm containers; since it is odorless smoke they are smoking it in electric devices; and it is pliable so it can easily added to edibles.  A columnist for the New York Times was visiting Colorado to interview personnel at a local edibles plant when she decided to munch on a candy bar edible. Unfortunately, the journalist was unaware that the candy bar was supposed to be cut into 16 pieces for a novice and she lay in a state of psychosis and panic for eight hours unable to move. The first authenticated death from marijuana came from a guy who got so high from hashish that he passed out and hit his head instantly killing him.  If this happens to an adult, imagine growing concern that cannabis edibles and wax will fall into the hands of adolescents and children. 

Marijuana Packaging Attacks Kids

The School Counselor and the Cannabis Using Student

Let’s look at the power of school counseling among drug using teens. As legalization spreads, it will become more important for school counselors to receive training on the effects of marijuana and student behavior.  In a study conducted on 3,200 7th and 9th graders in Australia and Washington State, researchers found that students who were suspended for drug use were two times more likely to use marijuana in the next year than students who were not suspended. What most surprised the researchers was that students who were counseled by the school counselor were 50% less likely to use in the next year. Other policies like calling the police, involving the school nurse, or expelling students had no effect on marijuana use. The researchers found schools that had drug policies with education or counseling were more effective than schools who only penalized their students.  
Source: Counseling Beats Suspension for Curbing Kids: Pot Use Study Says

Techniques for School Counselors

So, what technique does a school counselor use to convince a student that cannabis may not be the best choice in an age of legalization and social acceptance?   Motivational Interviewing examines the student’s current situation and explores the perceived benefits and obstacles around their substance abuse with the intention of helping him or her recognize if their current use is helping or hindering future goals. Motivational Interviewing (MI) is based on the premise that every behavior has a purpose and that there is a reason people abuse substances. In addition, MI recognizes that change is circular and not linear and relapse is part of that circular pattern. In order to be successful in working with students who have substance abuse issues, here are some best practices to remember:

1.  Adolescents are often ambivalent about giving up their use of cannabis and don’t listen to adults.  Teens are much more likely to listen to peers about the harms of substance abuse. Employing a peer education program like What’s With Weed can help make a difference in their views.

2.  Acknowledge your understanding of the student’s ambivalence and discuss other options for cannabis use when possible.  (Example includes: helps me sleep, but causes anxiety.)

3.  Focus on motivations to change. Find out if they are meeting their future goals with their cannabis use.

4.  Avoid judgments!

5.  Focus on harm reduction. Students may not be willing to give up with cannabis use, but brainstorm with them how to keep safe. 
Source:  Harm Reduction Cannabis Use: Motivational Interviewing

Other Resources:

Drug Facts-Marijuana

Marijuana Concentrates BrochureBrochure for parents and staff.


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