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Cannabis in a Changing Landscape

Heather Brouillard

May/June 2022

Now is the time to start the real conversation with kids about cannabis use.

In March, 25 communities across Vermont voted to allow retail cannabis sales greatly expanding the availability of adult-use cannabis to Vermonters ages 21 and older. Ten of those communities are in Rutland County and will allow the sale of cannabis in October 2022. What does this mean for our communities? Now is the time to start the real conversation with kids about cannabis use.

Studies in states that have led the way in marijuana legalization show that, on average, legalization has not changed the prevalence of cannabis use among adolescence. However, growing evidence suggests that cannabis-related harms such as Cannabis Use Disorder, cannabis-related hospitalizations, and driving under the influence of cannabis are on the rise. The increase in cannabis-related harm among youth could partially be the result of an evolution in the availability of higher potency products.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the mind-altering chemical in marijuana, impairs memory, attention, and learning. These effects can last up to several days after consumption, but in the case of teenagers have much more long-term effects on the brain. Risk factors such as the age of first cannabis use, the frequency of use, and the potency of THC found in the products used increases the risk of negative academic, vocational, mental health, cognitive, and substance misuse outcomes later in life.

Today’s marijuana has more than three times the concentration of THC than marijuana 25 years ago. In the 1990’s, marijuana had up to 5% THC. In Vermont today about 72% of cannabis products have a concentration of 15% THC or higher. This increase in potency has been developed over time through genetic modification. Although Marijuana is a plant, the products produced today are not naturally occurring substances.

This highlights an increased need for education, prevention, and policy as adult-use dispensaries open in our communities. The more we can educate youth as to the risks of use and delay onset of use, the lower the risk of negative cannabis-related health and social outcomes.

During adolescence through the age of 25 the brain is experiencing critical growth and development. Cannabis use during this critical stage, particularly in early adolescence (ages 12 to 14), may impair memory and decision making, affect academic performance, and have a detrimental effect on mental health. Early cannabis use also greatly increases the risk of addiction. On average, 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted, but when use begins before age 18 that risk increases to 1 in 6. When talking with kids about the risks of cannabis use, highlighting these facts can emphasize that while they may see adults making the choice to use cannabis, the effect it has on the adult brain is drastically different than the detrimental effect it can have on the growing adolescent brain.

So how do you start the hard conversation with kids about the risk of cannabis use? These tips can help you build an open, honest dialogue and supply a safe space for kids to ask questions.

  • Be honest and keep it authentic. We can underestimate kids’ ability to pick up on the world around them. If you approach the conversation with the facts and keep a calm, honest dialogue the conversation will flow.

  • Ask open ended questions and listen. Kids might already have questions about things they have seen and experienced. For instance, why is it ok for adults to use cannabis products but it is not safe for kids? Give them the chance to express themselves.

  • Have a silent conversation. Some kids might be more comfortable communicating through text or email. If the conversation is flowing, that is what matters.

  • Spend quality time doing something you both enjoy. If everyone is relaxed and having fun kids are more likely to feel comfortable to open up. This can make the conversation easy.

  • Lay the foundation for healthy habits. Teaching kids about healthy choices, how to stick up for themselves, and when to say no can build confidence as they are faced with tough situations.

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