The Silver State’s vote to legalize recreational marijuana last November has implications for Nevada teens beyond potentially easier access and more temptation.
“We can’t know the long-term effects of legalization, but certainly, the perception of harm is lower with it,” said Hannah McDonald, the incoming director of Partnership Carson City, an organization that sponsors proactive community education on a wide variety of drugs. “Even though marijuana is now legal for Nevadans age 21 and older, the dangers and risks still exist.”
McDonald says Nevada’s marijuana legalization is a perfect jumping-off point to educate teens about its biological and social effects and its legal ramifications for underage use. Rather than interrupting classroom time by adding to an already crowded curriculum at Carson High School, PCC is beginning instruction with students involved in sports.
“We are starting with the CHS athletes because they are all randomly drug-tested per the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, so we can make these presentations mandatory for them,” she said. “The NIAA imposes consequences if athletes use drugs – basically, the first offense is six weeks off the team. The second offense is a minimum of 90 days and a third offense kicks them out of interscholastic high school athletics altogether.”
Currently, education on a variety of drugs, including legal substances like alcohol and tobacco, is taught only in freshman health classes at CHS, according to PCC Youth Program Coordinator Brooklyn Maw, a CHS graduate and JV girls’ volleyball coach. She and Carson City Sheriff’s Office school resource officers, Jarrod Adams and Dean Williams, recently taught their first drug education class to all the school’s volleyball athletes.
“The class was not just about marijuana, although we are certainly featuring that because of the recent legalization,” Maw said. “We focus on the science of how each substance can specifically affect the developing brains of young adults, as well as their general health.”
Marijuana, she said, supplies dopamine, sometimes called the “feel good” neurotransmitter, to the brain. Since the human brain isn’t fully developed until around age 25, early and/or chronic users of marijuana can eventually find they no longer experience that pleasure unless they’re using marijuana.
“Another issue we talk about with legalized recreational marijuana is the variety of options available, including edibles,” Maw said. “Smoking it is the quickest way to feel the effect but edibles are slower to absorb into the body, so someone can eat one dose of an edible and then think they need more because they didn’t feel anything right away, resulting in them getting way more of the drug than they should.”
“We had a middle-school student ‘green out,’ which is an overdose caused by taking in too much marijuana too fast,” Adams said. “Although this incident happened while smoking marijuana, there is a greater risk of overdose when it comes to edibles. They are slower to take effect, which may lead people to use too much before the high kicks in.”
Adams also tells the story of a high school girl in Reno who got high several years ago on a Friday night, and the following Monday as she was driving to school, she hit and killed a motorcycle police officer.
“As is routine for an accident like that, her blood was drawn and she tested positive for marijuana,” he said. “This informs the kids that people can remain under the influence for three to four days because the marijuana is still in their blood.”
Adams said the ultimate goal would be to teach the drug education class to middle school students as well as to all the high school students in the hope they would wait until they are legal at age 21 to try marijuana and then do it as informed adults.
“We all have said that sometimes it feels like we are only putting down thumbtacks to stop a steamroller, but educating kids about the science of what happens to their brains and their bodies when they ingest these substances at least takes away their ignorance,” Maw said. “Most of the time, the kids we talk to are surprised to learn of all the effects.”