Imagine if today’s academics provided our youth only with information from a generation ago, the information that we, as parents and educators, grew up on. Picture teachers giving students an encyclopedia from the late 1980s to use for their research papers instead of teaching them to find current and trusted resources online. Visualize educators providing only outdated material to students, yet expecting them to be knowledgeable on the subject within today’s context. How can we deny our youth information resulting from the discoveries and advances of the past few decades, yet still expect that they make informed and accurate decisions? Unfortunately, in many schools across the United States this is exactly what is happening when it comes to youth marijuana prevention efforts.
Over the last few decades, with significant advances in technology, we have come to a deeper scientific understanding of adolescent brain development and cannabis-related information and have additionally accumulated a multitude of anecdotal findings on these topics. Recent years have also seen the legalization of marijuana moving across the United States. Adolescents today are coming of age in a world of legalized cannabis. This is a reality for today’s youth, but it is a very different reality from what their parents and grandparents grew up in. As educators and parents, we need to meet youth at their level, at their reality. This means moving past the “Just Say No” approaches of previous generations and adopting a progressive approach to youth marijuana prevention that addresses cannabis as a legal substance (in some states) and also as a product that is sometimes used medicinally. Even for states that do not have recreational marijuana laws, the approach to youth marijuana prevention efforts remains in dire need of upgrade. It is important to arm students with the information they need to make healthy and informed decisions.
What do I mean when I say progressive?
- Diving into advanced understanding of adolescent brain development to explain why youth substance use can be detrimental to the still developing brain
- Talking about the human endocannabinoid system (which was actually named after the cannabis plant)
- Discussing vaping (whether cannabis or nicotine)
- Educating about concentrates and potency levels
- Distinguishing between THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol)
- Highlighting the important differences between adult use and youth use as well as the differences between medicinal use and recreational use
It is time to move beyond the egg-and-frying-pan approach to education. Refusing to bring marijuana education up to speed and continuing to teach antiquated programming because that is what we (as adults) are familiar with is the equivalent of refusing to teach kids how to do proper and verifiable research on the internet because we didn’t grow up with Google. This progressive methodology has been adopted by a number of schools in Colorado. Data collected in Denver Public Schools from 440 students in the 2017-2018 school year shows that exposure to MEI’s science-based prevention curriculum increased students perception of harm, for not only marijuana, but for tobacco and alcohol as well. Of the students who were using marijuana prior to exposure to the curriculum, one hundred percent of those students decreased their marijuana use by the end of the program. The Marijuana Education Initiative partnered with Denver Public Schools in mid-June to do a presentation at the Healthy Schools Leadership Retreat in Keystone, Colorado. The retreat was a statewide event to increase knowledge and skills surrounding the health and well-being of children and youth in Colorado. The initiative taken by Denver Public Schools is a prime example of how staying current and seeking out new approaches, parents, schools, and youth-serving organizations have the opportunity to be progressive in their methodology and to advance best educational practices for today’s youth.