Dr. Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon and respected broadcast journalist, made this statement regarding medicinal marijuana. Marijuana is often a heated topic, with strong feelings on all sides of the issue. As parents, educators, coaches, and adult mentors, we have a great responsibility to provide our youth with accurate information. Information that is informed by science as well as compassion.

Adolescents today receive a lot of mixed messages regarding marijuana, and when questions arise we hope knowledgeable adults are there to educate youth about the risks of using recreational marijuana use at a young age. We hope youth are informed not only about the adverse effects of marijuana on adolescent brain development but also the legal consequences of adolescent marijuana use as well as its academic implications.

The conversations we need to have with adolescents about recreational marijuana use are straightforward; discussion gets a bit more challenging when it comes to medicinal marijuana, a complex subject. Many adults are confused or unsure of the facts, so they don’t know how to advise their children, but by educating themselves on the subject, adults can model how to make informed decisions about marijuana.
Countless individuals, adults and youth, use marijuana for medicinal purposes.
While research continues, anecdotal evidence is demonstrating that marijuana can be an effective treatment for a number of illnesses. Non-smokable products are frequently employed to treat health conditions such as epilepsy and childhood cancers. These products are typically high in cannabidiol (CBD; a non-psychoactive substance in marijuana known for its therapeutic effects) and low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC; the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana). Patients who use tinctures or oils high in CBD and low in THC benefit from the medicinal components of the cannabis plant without getting “high.”  There is a particular strain of cannabis that is high in CBD and low in THC that has become known as Charlotte’s Web, named after the young girl to whom it has provided such benefit.

CBD oil is used to treat epilepsy, disorders related to brain malformations, profound nonverbal autism, childhood cancers, and other conditions. Success stories surrounding medicinal marijuana use abound, but we must consider how conversations about medicinal marijuana use must go beyond CBD and THC content and into the scope of empathy and understanding.

The discussion of medicinal marijuana must be one of compassion and understanding based on accurate information. Colorado lawmakers are leading the way in ensuring that the needs and rights of all students who use medical marijuana are met. Jack’s Law, named after Jack Splitt, a Colorado teen who suffered from quadriplegic cerebral palsy and dystonia, requires schools in the state of Colorado to allow parents or designated caregivers to administer nonsmokable cannabis treatment on school grounds to students who are registered medical marijuana patients. Schools have been entrusted with the responsibility to provide a balance between informing students of the risks of adolescent recreational use and creating an environment of safety and understanding for medicinal marijuana patients.  As parents, educators, coaches, and adult mentors, we must take this same responsibility to educate youth about the important differences in marijuana use.

 The Realm of Caring, a nonprofit organization based in Colorado Springs, works to improve lives through research, education, and advocacy in the area of medicinal marijuana. The Realm of Caring has an important motto that guides its actions: “Because Quality of Life Matters.” The organization shines a light on the need for comprehensive and compassionate understanding of medicinal marijuana use in schools, communities, and youth organizations. Inclusive education can be the first step in ensuring that children who rely on medicinal marijuana treatments can achieve a certain quality of life with their chosen treatment modality. 

 Medicinal marijuana is becoming more and more accepted across the United States, with twenty-eight states legalizing medicinal marijuana use. The climate around marijuana in the United States is changing and therefore so should our dialogue. The “just say no” approach must yield to reality-based education that is founded in science rather than in fear. Arming youth with information on the adverse effects of adolescent recreational marijuana use is essential; however, the story does not stop there. We cannot teach just one side of the issue. Balanced and compassionate education helps young people truly understand the differences between recreational marijuana use and medicinal marijuana use and thus provides them the occasion to make informed decisions and practice empathy for others.

 Marijuana today is a complex “product.” Discussion and education must go beyond simplistic approaches. At the Marijuana Education Initiative, we subscribe to Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s idea: we, too, feel a great responsibility to ensure discussions are well informed by science and compassion, to educate youth about the differences between recreational use in adolescence and adulthood, and to emphasize the important distinctions between recreational and medicinal uses. We believe that accurately informed youth are empowered youth. 

Sarah Grippa

After working as a criminal and family law paralegal for many years, Sarah decided to follow her passion and pursue a career in education. She returned to college and earned a BA in education with an endorsement in K–12 special education. Sarah later earned additional endorsements in language arts and health. She has worked with special education students in middle school and high school and worked as a general education language arts and health teacher at an alternative high school. Her work at the alternative education campus led Sarah to co-found the Marijuana Education Initiative with Molly Lotz. Together, she and Molly work with specialists and professionals in diverse fields to create unbiased, reality-based marijuana prevention and intervention curricula as well as alternative-to-suspension programming, parent information guides, and online learning modules. Sarah couples her experience in the classroom with her knowledge in youth-specific marijuana prevention efforts to successfully work with educators, communities, legislators, state agencies, and industry leaders across the country to ensure educational practices keep pace with changing norms.

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