Want to protect youth when it comes to marijuana?... Be honest with them.

by Trey Reckling   (originally published by The Fresh Toast)

The Drug Enforcement Administration continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance since 1972. Because of this classification, marijuana is seen to have "no medically accepted use" and brings with it a "high potential for abuse." Research has been greatly inhibited by this. Despite these limitations, there are still in excess of 29,000 peer reviewed research papers on cannabis listed by the National Institutes of Health.

The truth is out there as a famous TV show used to remind us. But this is not science fiction, cannabis is an herbal remedy used by shamans thousands of years ago and likely used even by many of our great grandmothers before it was demonized at the beginning of the 1900s. The propaganda machine against marijuana has ranged from blatantly racist to just purely misleading and uninformed. During the 80’s children were told to “Just Say No” and an egg cracked into a hot frying pan reminded us, “this is your brain on drugs.” It was a time before the internet and many youth had no way to seriously fact check the propaganda coming from their TV, from teachers and even the White House. The message to youth was basically, “believe us, we know better.” When those messages proved to be thin on facts and often wrong, the messengers were discredited.

As marijuana legalization spreads, a primary goal is often to protect youth. In an effort to protect children, states enact strict labeling, packaging and marketing rules, create security procedures to make sure children don’t have access and limit proximity of producers and retailers to places where children assemble like schools and playgrounds. If we really want to keep youth safe in these days of increasingly legal cannabis, we need to do one thing above all. We need to be honest with them, then ask them to fact check us. Spreading fear to educate has never been the best method of instruction, though fear of disciplinary and legal consequence is what society often leans on. Instead, let’s tell our kids that good, reliable research exists and be willing to show both sides of the coin. Yes, the largest research study of its kind found that “little evidence to suggest that adolescent marijuana use has a direct effect on intellectual decline.” However, research also currently shows that as many as 9% of marijuana users can become addicted and that teen use can lead to a higher likelihood of substance use disorder later in life. Let’s share with them the studies that show that adolescent cannabis use can have real negative effects on the developing brain.

Let’s have open and honest discussions with youth about cannabis use as we encourage them to abide by state laws that require them to be of age to consume. For the sake of their health and preventing involvement with the legal system, let’s encourage them to not just believe us but to fact check us, to seek out real answers to the questions they have from reliable, science based sources. Young people are not always known for rational decisions. We know this; we have been there. But they will be much better prepared to make smart decisions if they are knowledgeable. Let’s give them that benefit. It’s more than many of us had to go on.