Has our attitude about marijuana and kids gone to pot?

As CBC's Information Radio explored the issue of drugs in schools this week, host Marcy Markusa was taken aback by some of your reactions to one drug in particular — pot.
A 2011 study by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse shows that one in five students in Manitoba has used marijuana. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

I had some serious moments of surprise this week during our series about drugs in our local schools.

I am not naive to the fact that most drugs are readily available to students and have been for decades.  I was however, taken aback by some of the audience reaction to one drug in particular  pot.

Following the discussion threads this week on our social media pages, our series about drugs in schools quickly turned into a series about marijuana in our schools. 

Weed, according to teens that CBC News spoke with in Winnipeg, is the most common drug at school.

They aren't wrong. A 2011 study by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse shows that 22 per cent of students in Manitoba — or one in five  have used pot.

Students told us about kids smoking so much grass that they were vomiting green in classrooms.

One teacher called in frustration to tell us about a Grade 8 student who was selling drugs at her middle school last year. She said some kids came forward to say they had been approached to buy weed and the administration didn't do anything about it.

Level of concern varies greatly

Apparently our level of concern when we hear these types of stories from our schools varies greatly.

Here's a tweet I got: "This drug story is such a non-story. Every politician in Canada said they smoked pot in high school. Stop fear mongering."

My tweet reply: "What about dealers in schools?"

The tweet back to me: "What about them? What's the problem that we're supposed to be up in arms about? High school students doing drugs?"

My tweet: "Shouldn't we expect that school is not a place that allows dealing? We wouldn't accept workplace dealers, would we?"

The tweet back to me: "School != workplace. Apples and Oranges. Secondly, would you prefer that the kids should be getting the drugs from strangers?"

Actually, I would prefer that the kids weren't getting drugs from anywhere. But as I said, I am not that naive.

I am surprised, however, that some people have set the bar so low on this issue that characterizing a school as a safe place to buy and use pot is the best that we can do for our kids. 

Even Paul Olson, the president of the Manitoba Teachers Society, said this: "I don't want to trivialize it. We don't want kids showing up to school stoned. But kids showing up to school high on pot every day was a daily occurrence when I was in high school, and I'm 47."

No big deal to light up?

Kids are picking up on some of our adult attitudes. 

One study published this month by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse says students have the impression that everybody smokes pot and that it's safe.

A U.S.-based study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that as the perceived risk of using marijuana goes down, pot use among students goes up.

Essentially, kids get the message that it's no big deal and they light up.

In fact, I spoke with another researcher this week who did a survey with Canadian kids about their attitudes about marijuana, and she found out that some teens think weed cures cancer!

So why don't we at least have better education about marijuana to begin with, so we can assess what's happening 
in our schools and with our young people? 

The answer might lie in what we, as adults, think we know about pot. After all, remember those politicians who puffed in high school? They seem to be doing just fine, right?

Dr. Asaf Keller was on our show this week too. His research shows that marijuana is much more dangerous for teens than it is for adults and can permanently alter their brains.

"Children who start [using marijuana] around pre-adolescence, 13 to 15 years of age, tend to develop very severe deficits," said Keller.

Keller said the teenage brain reacts differently to marijuana than the adult brain because the frontal part of the brain is still developing during adolescence.

If you want to read more about his study, by the way, you can find it in the July edition of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, which could help if you go Googling for it.

I wanted to bring it up, however, because I asked Dr. Keller how he explains why some adults who smoked up as teens aren't affected by it in their adulthood. He simply said that every person has the potential to react differently.

Now, just before you start commenting like mad about competing research studies and conflicting information, I just want to put this out there.

If I'm taking a position in my blog this week, it is only this one: We, as adults, should read all of those research studies before we start defending marijuana as a harmless right of passage or vilifying it as the devil's weed.

Neither of those extremes is helping our kids figure it out.

About the Author

Marcy Markusa

Host, Information Radio

Marcy Markusa hosts Information Radio on CBC Radio One 89.3 FM / 990 AM in Winnipeg. Born and raised in the Manitoba capital, Marcy is passionate about the future of our community and loves how it's growing in both confidence and prosperity. She thrives on getting honest and straight-forward answers for listeners and infuses the show with her energetic warmth and sense of humour.


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