Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, April 23, 2018

Teach Who, What?!

"Most of the time, they [high school drug education] would give us these fact sheets on cannabis. Then we'd all take it out to the corner and get high and laugh at it because we thought it was stupid."
"They said if you use at all it's problematic. I knew that wasn't true, because I saw a lot of people using that didn't have a problem with it."
"They [adult authorities] really try to scare you, using fear tactics. So it kind of blurs the line for you: What information can I trust? What kind of things are they lying about?"
"If they would have said, 'If you have mental-health issues you are more likely to use [cannabis] as a coping mechanism', I might have reflected on that."
"I moved out, went to college, left the town where there wasn't much to do. I was just too busy to be getting high and not doing anything."
Heather D'Alessio, 22, Canadian aspiring to university

"The evidence shows that an abstinence, fear-based message does not resonate with the majority of kids. It tends to work best with the kids who are the least likely to use drugs in the first place."
"It's almost saying to kids, 'Look, the way we've communicated with you in the past hasn't always been effective'. Part of that is acknowledging they used to lump it [cannabis] together with every other illicit drug and just say, 'This is your brain on drugs'."
"They need to somehow distinguish their new messaging from that, and say, 'You have to believe it when we say there are additional risks when you use cannabis when you are a teenager and when you are younger."
David Hammond, professor of public health, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario
Pot enthusiasts of all ages gathered below the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill for the annual cannabis celebration known as 4-20. Julie Oliver /Postmedia

When authorities issue warnings of any nature on any topic the usual reaction of teenagers is an automatic suspension of belief, simply because this is the normal way that the teen-age brain assimilates information it rejects out of hand. Any cautions emitted from the mouths of adults are immediately suspect. The reaction that kicks in is one of rejection linked to an instant determination to take on whatever is being warned against.

Canada has the dubious distinction of being recognized as the country with the highest rates of marijuana use in the world. According to Statistics Canada, 20 percent of Canadian youth between the ages of 14 to 19 report having used marijuana at least on one occasion in 2015; it is not the teens who represent the highest users however, but people between the ages of 20 to 25, whose use is close to 30 percent. Since the Canadian government is on the cusp of legalizing recreational marijuana it has launched a new education campaign.
Who uses cannabis?

Pubic health advocates are very well aware of the threat that marijuana use in teenage to the low-20s can represent to the still-maturing brain. They and government are invested in educating young people of the potential dangers inherent in starting and using cannabis at too young an age. Impulsive teens tend to comport themselves as they see fit, however, even with the best-intentioned advice when it runs counter to their values that "everyone does it".

The cannabis-awareness campaigns launched by the federal government and considered a critical portion of the concerned effort to ensure that young people don't accustom themselves to frequent marijuana use once the drug becomes legal, in a sense ignore the fact that even in the current atmosphere of illegality the drug is easily acquired and widely used, by teens and anyone else interested in its narcotic, mind-altering effects.

"We don't know exactly what works in drug education, but we know what doesn't work", stated a cannabis policy researcher, adviser to the group Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy which is geared toward involving youth in the creation and delivery of useful educational programs. As it happens, Heather D'Alessio is also a board member for the student group which produced a tool kit for educators and parents on cannabis education.

Among other issues addressed in the tool kit is avoidance of high-potency products such as "shatter", and a caution on mixing pot with tobacco, along with reducing frequency of use. The purpose of the kit is geared to minimize the potential for any harm in cannabis use, stressing the importance of education based on evidence. Many young users fail to understand that driving while under the influence of pot is as dangerous as driving while inebriated.

Dr. Sinthuja Suntharalingam, staff psychiatrist at Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, spoke of teenagers she has treated suffering psychotic episodes that too much marijuana use triggers. "They are quite taken aback that cannabis can do this. Some of the parents are using it themselves, so it's really hard for them to accept it (pot) can be causing this (psychotic episodes)." And no one wants to accept that cognitive deficits can result from using pot at an early age.

Ms. D'Alessio revealed her struggle with anxiety and depression in her teen years without being aware of any connection to her use of cannabis. "There was no discussion around lifestyle, or what makes some individuals more likely to have an (addiction) issue." She became so comfortable using pot that she was soon smoking daily and by Grade 11 was completely addicted. She faults the lack of useful education given to her and her peers in high school. Avoidance of responsibility in poor decision-making?

Eventually she underwent a psychotic episode, was hospitalized for several weeks, and recovered with the help of a course of anti-psychotic medication that enabled her to return to school. She has cut down on her cannabis use, though she still uses occasionally. Aware that her lungs could be impaired smoking pot, she no longer smokes, involved in sports and unwilling to compromise the things she values in life. Working full time, "I'm saving up for school. I have other priorities", she now says.

Cannabis consumption through the decades

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