Pubdate: Wed, 21 Mar 2018
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2018 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Nara Schoenberg, Chicago Tribune



"My uncle is prescribed marijuana."

"My parents use it, and they're doing fine."

As a drug prevention specialist who does in-school presentations in
the U.S., as well as internationally, Zach Levin has seen the problem
firsthand: Teens know that recreational use is legal in states such as
Colorado and that medical use is on the rise, and they're using that
information to support the old argument that a little weed never hurt

And starting today, Illinois teens have one more argument: In a
symbolic win for legalization forces that did not change local laws,
Cook County residents voted in favor of legalizing recreational
marijuana use by a wide margin Tuesday, with 68 percent in favor and
32 percent against.

So how do you, as a parent, prepare to talk about marijuana with your
kids in the age of legalization?

"The biggest thing that I tell parents is that first they need to
talk. I think there's been a lot of fear around even having the
conversation," said Levin, who is also the supervisor of structured
recovery housing at Hazelden Betty Ford in Chicago.

"And I think the second most important thing is to deliver healthy
facts. Parents need to get familiar with what those are. Some already
know them; (they) just need help on delivering those facts to their
children, because they think now we're living in this era where a lot
of teenagers have access to the internet. You can go on Google, you
can go on Twitter and you see a lot of glamorization and
misinformation regarding marijuana, so it's important for parents to
have the right facts."

Among the facts emphasized at one trusted resource, the National
Institute on Drug Abuse website:

* Marijuana can be addictive. Research indicates that about 9 percent
of users develop addictions.

* Using and driving is unsafe. Marijuana is the most common illegal
drug identified in deadly car crashes and is thought to roughly double
your chance of being involved in a crash.

* Marijuana is linked to lower grades. Pot has negative effects on
attention, motivation and memory. In recent research, heavy teen users
who continued on to become very heavy users as adults lost an average
of 6 IQ points by mid-adulthood.

* Marijuana is linked to some mental illnesses. There's some evidence
that early use may increase psychotic disorders among those already at
genetic risk.

Levin says some basic information about the adolescent brain can also
be helpful when addressing teens.

"When I go to schools, I'm dealing with students 13 to 18 who are
thinking that maybe because legalization is happening in their state,
(it's safe). So we have to get clear on just because something's been
legalized -- it might actually be very harmful to the brain if it's
still developing," he said.

"I have to do a little education on neuroscience and get them to see
that the adolescent brain is not fully developed, and it's developing
throughout adolescence and, in some cases, well beyond. It's getting
them to understand what are some of the last parts to develop, so
maybe taking a look at the frontal lobe and what that's responsible
for: decision-making, impulse control. They can start to see what's
going on. They can understand that marijuana can be harmful to
learning, thinking, memory development."

As for the talk itself, he recommends that parents start by asking a
simple question or two: What have you heard about drugs? Is there
anything you're curious about? There's no need to talk about marijuana
separately from other drugs, but be ready for some unique
legalization-era issues.

If a kid brings up objections such as, what about "Uncle Harry's
medical marijuana?" or "What about Colorado?" a "social norms"
approach may be helpful, Levin said. Surveys show that the majority of
teens are not using -- something kids may not know because users tend
to speak more loudly and passionately than nonusers.

Marijuana use among students in eighth grade and high school rose by
1.3 percentage points to 23.9 percent in 2017, according to a recent
report from the annual survey Monitoring the Future. About 10 percent
of eighth-graders had used marijuana in the past year, and about 37
percent of 12th-graders (versus 51 percent in 1979).

And what if your independent teen says he or she doesn't care what the
majority does? Well, good for her, Levin says, but realistically, most
of us do follow the herd to some extent, often without knowing it.

In his school presentations, he sometimes makes this point by shifting
away from drugs entirely and talking about media and marketing.

"I've had everyone take a look at the gym shoes that they're wearing.
And I ask them to really take inventory of why they purchased the
shoes that they're wearing, and never have I heard a student who has
said 'Well, Zach, this shoe, I did a lot of research -- it's extremely
supportive; it's a great walking shoe,'" Levin said.

"Often we're hearing about the Nike swish logo or that the Uggs looked
really good in the store. That's often how we make decisions -- it's
even true of adults. So when we have the misinformation, or when we
have the minority speaking very loudly, there is some effect on our
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