Everybody’s Doing It. Or, Are They?

Everybody’s Doing It. Or, Are They?

October 25, 2017
Jill Royston, student assistant specialist for NEWESD 101

Guest Contributor

As a substance use counselor in a local high school, I hear daily about the ways youth are using marijuana and the reasons they use. I have also heard an array of myths about the drug. Curious about what youth are saying? Here’s what I hear most often:

“Marijuana is an herb, it’s all natural, and it won’t hurt me.”
“Marijuana helps people with anxiety.”
“Everyone does it, so what’s the big deal?”

First and foremost, it’s important to remember that talking to the youth in your life about substance use is important – and it makes a difference. Research supports that youth who think their parents and community believe that marijuana use is wrong are less likely to use it. Talking about it, sharing your expectations and concerns, and making sure youth know they can talk to you are important steps to helping prevent youth marijuana use. You can use these conversations to make sure they know everybody isn’t doing it.

“Marijuana is an herb, it’s natural, and it won’t hurt me”

Marijuana is a a different kind of herb in that it contains a psychoactive ingredient that causes people to feel “high” and impacts the brain in other critical ways. Marijuana can have negative effects for young, developing brains. Separate parts of the brain develop at their own rates and become fully functioning over time, not reaching full development until around age 26. One effect on a still-developing brain includes decreased motivation, which can impact grades and relationships with peers and family. Marijuana use may also affect memory and attention span, making concentration difficult. Other impacts of marijuana use include impaired judgement while driving, leading to a DUI or risky sexual activity. There’s also risk for addiction. Compounding these risks are steadily increasing amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main mind-altering ingredient found in marijuana—impacts of using higher concentrations of THC are still being researched.

“Marijuana helps me focus, sleep, and helps me with anxiety.”

Marijuana can impact people in different ways and many factors influence what a person experiences including how much a person uses, potency, and a person’s tolerance. Immediate effects of marijuana can include euphoria, physical changes, and in some cases, adverse mental reactions including anxiety, fear, distrust, and panic. Some users may also experience psychosis that may include hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and loss of the sense of personal identity. For some users, marijuana may make a person feel more relaxed and sleep easier. However, some studies have shown that frequent marijuana use shortens REM sleep, the valuable time our bodies use to store information. When a person who frequently uses marijuana stops using, they can find sleep difficult, signifying that the person may be going through withdrawal. If you are talking with youth about marijuana use, encourage other, healthier strategies they can use to manage anxiety. High school counselors, therapists, and primary care providers are excellent resources for this information and so is the Listen to Your Selfie website, created to promote avoiding marijuana in pursuit of other goals.

“Everyone does it, so what’s the big deal?”

The big deal is that everyone doesn’t do it. When it comes to youth, they commonly overestimate the number of their peers who participate in a behavior (this is also true for alcohol and tobacco). In Spokane County, among 10th grade youth, one in six youth self-report that they have used marijuana in the past 30 days. One in six 10th grade youth self-report that they have used marijuana in the past 30 days - this means that most students aren’t using marijuana. When a youth tells you that “everyone is doing it,” you can explain to them that their perception is wrong. If you need the data to support it, check out Healthy Youth Survey for more information. It’s also important that youth understand the law. Using marijuana is against the law for people under age 21. You can find out more about the law by going to the Liquor and Cannabis Board’s website.