Community leaders, law enforcement, health educators and cannabis industry business leaders convened at Squaw Valley in Tahoe last May 12 to collaborate in a regulatory response to the legalization of marijuana (cannabis) via Prop 64 in order to protect the health of youth.

The event was chaired by River Coyote (photo above), the director of the Tahoe Truckee Future without Drug Dependence coalition. “The science of addiction indicates that the earlier youth start using, the greater the risk of addiction,” Coyote said. “So we are encouraged that there is a unified desire among all stakeholders to build into the regulatory framework protective factors for youth.”

With the internet and mobile devices, modern youth have access to everything they think they need or want to know about all manner of drugs and devices to get high and self-medicate. So the role of the parent in prevention is even more important than ever to inform their own children about the risk of harm, and share the expectation and confidence to make choices that value their good health. In order to do this, parents need to get educated about how cannabis is experienced in the youth culture. Below are two major truths and insights about today’s marijuana (shared by featured speakers at this summit) that enable parents and youth to think correctly about the modern cannabis reality.

Truth 1: Even though marijuana is a natural plant, consumption of cannabis products is not harmless. The medicinal value of cannabis notwithstanding, cannabis today is not the same as mom’s or grandma’s pot. Your child needs to know that cannabis is not harmless, and must be treated like any other medication or alcohol.

Ben Cort, author of Weed Inc., serves on the Board of Directors for Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) and is focused on educating people about the impact of the industrial complex on cannabis products. He has observed that with commercialization cannabis products are developed with greater potency as concentrates (oils and wax) which can reach over 90% THC potency (the chemical compound that makes you high), compared to one to two percent THC of marijuana consumed by previous generations. Cort further explains that the risk factors for addiction are potency, frequency of use, and age of onset, and the legalization of marijuana contributes to a new cultural environment that intensifies these risk factors. “With the increased potency and ease of consumption, the younger the age, there is increased risk of addiction of up to 50% with daily use,” he said.

Indeed the previous generation’s perception about marijuana being non-addictive does not hold up in this new era of pot. Cort sited further evidence of this risk of cannabis addiction: the DSM-IV, which is the authoritative reference for mental health professionals, lists cannabis withdrawal as a treatable diagnosis.

Example of a vape pen to administer cannabis via The Cannabist

Truth 2: A teen making good grades while using cannabis is not immune to this risk of harm. Jennifer Golick, PhD., LMFT wants parents to know that the issue for youth is not about medical marijuana. “This is about adolescent use who become addicted or dependent,” she said, citing a 2016 Monitoring the Future study by the National Institute of Drug Abuse indicating for the first time youth are using marijuana in the eighth, ninth and tenth grades at rates greater than they are using cigarettes. According to Golick, as the public perception of risk of harm decreases with cannabis, youth use of the substance increases. “There is a common belief among parents who don’t smoke marijuana, and with those who do smoke,” she said. “That it is okay [for youth] as long as you keep your grades and are responsible. It is perceived as the least bad option.”

According to Golick, the science takes a while to catch up with the consequences of how cannabis is cultivated and consumed today. “There are changes in the brain chemical system induced by marijuana interacting with the cannabinoid receptor system while the adolescent brain is still under construction,” she said. “It is like throwing out parts that impact mood and learning, and can result in psychiatric illness.”

Golick also cautions parents to get educated about the new tools for consumption which include battery-operated vape pens that are smokeless and look like regular writing pens (some resemble asthma medication dispensers), and edibles that look like popular candies such as gummy bears and KitKat chocolate bars. “Today’s marijuana is very potent, easy to conceal and use every day, even in the classroom,” she said.

If you suspect that your child is using cannabis or other drugs and alcohol, even if you have evidence for one instance, the most important thing you can do is get educated about drug use, abuse and addiction and engage your teen in the process. You can find education, counseling and treatment with the following resources:

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About:  We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).

Joanna Jullien, Founder & CEO of Core Connectivity
Photo by: Victoria Hatch

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.