Talking with Students about Medical Marijuana
Data from the 2010 Ulster County Youth Development Survey showed an alarming trend whereby students feel that marijuana is less and less harmful as they progress from 7th through 12 grade. Only 22% of 12th graders who took the survey felt that there was a “moderate risk” or “great risk” from smoking marijuana. This puts our students at significant risk for marijuana use, and Ulster Prevention Council has identified this as a critical issue for 2012.
A recent discussion with several local prevention providers focused on the difficulties of discussing the harmful effects of marijuana with high school students. Often there are one or two students present in a classroom presentation who want to make a strong case for legalizing marijuana because of its perceived safe, medicinal properties.
The prevention providers discussed the importance of media literacy training. Students often do not distinguish between information found in formal research studies and information found by, say, Googling “benefits of marijuana” online. The development of critical thinking is an important task of adolescence.Adults also must be ready to listen to youth and not shut them down with a “Drugs are bad, just say no” message. Balanced, accurate information must be presented.
However, distinctions must be made between use of non-smoked pharmaceuticals such as Marinol and Sativex by seriously ill patients and recreational use of smoked marijuana, an unstable mixture of over 400 chemicals including many toxic psychoactive chemicals. We can then quickly progress to the important discussion of the well documented risks of marijuana use by youth.
One useful website that I have used is medicalmarijuanaprocon.org. This site contains a wealth of information with appropriate citations, including synopses of 100 peer-reviewed studies on marijuana, U.S. Government reports, a listing of pharmaceutical drugs based on cannabis, polls and surveys, great quotes from leaders in the field and other helpful reference materials.