Story by: Jennie Gray

Featured in: The Saratogian

Link to article can be found here:

South Glens Falls

With marijuana now legal in several states, information and misinformation about the drug are swirling like smoke; so the Community Coalition for Family Wellness hopes to provide resources that promote safety and health, especially for youth. The school district’s Oct. 29 Parent University night, called “Marijuana, What’s the Big Deal?”, gave families, students, faculty and community partners a look at current medical, sociological and legal aspects of cannabis use in teenagers.

The evening’s presenters stressed that although nationwide attitudes towards marijuana use are shifting toward acceptance, concerns remain due to its effect on the developing brain.

Community Coalition for Family Wellness Coordinator Jenn Wood shared results from 2011 and 2014 drug-use surveys of South Glens Falls High School students. Alcohol was the most highly used substance in the past month from the survey date, with 19 percent of students from 7th to 12th grade drinking. Marijuana came next, with 13 percent of those students using it in the past month. Most other drugs, from tobacco to Ecstacy, were used by 1 percent to 4 percent of the students in the past month. No students reported using cocaine, methamphetamines or heroin in that past month.

“Tonight, we will focus on marijuana’s impact on youth,” Wood said. “Altering one’s perception of reality can increase the risk of harm. Also, teen brains are more vulnerable to addiction than adult brains. We want students to be able to make evidence-based decisions.”

The survey results showed that eighth-graders are especially prone to using alcohol and marijuana at a stage in adolescence where they have more responsibilities and where their peer group has great influence.

“That’s a risky time for kids,” Wood said.

Looking at the district’s older students, the coalition found 33 percent of 11th-graders say their friends think it’s fine to smoke marijuana. Some 63 percent of 12th-graders say it’s easy to get pot, and 47 percent of 12th-graders know at least one adult who smokes marijuana.

To get a real teenager’s-eye view of marijuana, the coalition assembled its South Glens Falls High School Youth Panel, comprising seniors Ryan Hay and Teyler Nassivera; juniors Brittany Kenny and Jake Kerr; and freshman Brianna Harrington, for the Parent University event. These students spoke about their brushes with marijuana and thoughts on drug use.

In response to a question on how they reacted to the possibility of using marijuana, Harrington replied that her long-term life goals for college, a job and sports kept her away from pot.

Nassivera said, “I don’t want to fall short of the person I wish to be.”

Hay is living up to his parents’ standards and high expectations for him, as well as setting a good example for younger children.

The students praised the school’s sports programs, coaches and teachers as strong support. Disrespect for those coaches and teachers, as well as peer pressure and teasing, could make staying away from pot a challenge.

When asked whether their parents spoke to them about drugs, the students said both yes and no.

“I think it was more me finding out about things and coming home to tell my parents about drugs,” Harrington said.

Nassivera said her own parents hadn’t talked with her, but a family friend had.

When asked how to tell that someone was getting into drugs, the students responded readily. Harrington said the transitions into middle school and then high school could prompt a switch into a new group of friends. If the student is closed off from old friends, Kenny said, that’s a sign of change.

An audience member said, “Look out for excessive use of Febreeze. If a student’s car starts smelling very floral, that could be a sign.”

The event’s three professional presenters agreed that marijuana can have ill effects on young people.

Saratoga County Sheriff’s Dept. Deputy Nic Denno of the K9 Unit said, “We’re out on the street, involved with the sellers and users of the drug. Marijuana is dangerous; it has an impact on decision-making.”

He discussed possession, constructive possession and driving while under the influence of drugs, an issue he sees too often.

Saratoga County Assistant District Attorney John Leggett spoke about felony crimes involving marijuana sales and possession. His office becomes involves after an arrest, as the second stage in the criminal justice process.

“A drug felony conviction can lead to jail time and probation,” he said. “Marijuana use is also often a nexus with other crimes, such as larcenies and burglaries to get funds to support the habit. Impaired driving is another serious issue.”

St. Peter’s Addiction Recovery Center Program Manager Bill Bean, who has worked in substance abuse counseling for 30 years, spoke about the average age at which people begin to use marijuana: 12. Predisposition, challenging family situations and difficult social situations can lead to this first use and can continue to overuse and abuse.

“Some kids have found their way through the door of the recovery center here with their heels dragging in the dirt,” he said.

Since marijuana’s main mind-altering ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol, is fat-soluable, it stays in the body for a long while, especially in the myelin of nerves, he said. Long-term pot users can’t handle stress, emotions or decisions.

“We tell kids to be good consumers, to do the research,” he said. “Read a lot of articles from many publications.”

Kristen Chilson and her brother, Eric Bain, attended the Parent University event along with about 50 other people. The siblings both have middle-schoolers and had come to learn more about marijuana issues at that age.

“My kid doesn’t tell me anything,” Bain said, smiling.

They agreed that the evening was informative and planned to talk with their kids at home.

Patty Kilgore, director of counseling services at the Prevention Council, a member of the coalition, also attended. She said she was pleased at the turnout, which she attributed to word of mouth from parent to parent.

“The panel of kids was helpful,” she said. “People could see that these students weren’t using marijuana and that they were happy. I wish more parents would hear that message. We’re being flooded with information on legalization, but the impact of marijuana in terms of learning lasts. It’s harmful for teenagers.”