Curbing Tahoe-Truckee youth pot use key to stopping abuse, officials say | SierraSun.com

Curbing Tahoe-Truckee youth pot use key to stopping abuse, officials say

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

TRUCKEE, Calif. — While alcohol consumption among local youth has been a topic of concern in recent years, the community should also be aware of the changing norms regarding marijuana, officials said.

Amid a growing backdrop of states legalizing marijuana or considering legalization, the public's perceived harm of the drug is decreasing — and that's a potentially damaging opinion being absorbed by local youth, said Devin Bradley, Nevada County public health education specialist.

"We're seeing that there's a great increase in youth marijuana usage as the perception of harm has really fallen off," Bradley said at a substance use and abuse-focused gathering earlier this month. "Young people don't think it's harmful. They don't think it's dangerous."

Bradley was one of three speakers at the Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee's September Resource Sharing meeting, none of whom spoke of the merits of marijuana.

Representatives from several area organizations, including family resource centers and health groups, also attended the public meeting, which focused on how to reduce local substance abuse through community collaboration.

According to the 2014 California Healthy Kids Survey, 95 percent of Tahoe Truckee Unified School District seventh-graders and 77 percent of ninth-graders reported no marijuana use in the past 30 days — down by 1 percent and 2 percent from 2012, respectively.

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Meanwhile, 5 percent more of 11th-graders reported no use — 74 percent (2014) vs. 69 percent (2012).

However, reported marijuana use among TTUSD 11th- and ninth-graders is still higher than the state average, with 76 percent of 11th-graders and 85 percent of ninth-graders in the state reporting no use.

"That stigma of using marijuana has really dropped off because it's (used) for medical, it's recreational, it's industrialized and it's commercialized," said Bradley, who is also project coordinator for the Tahoe-Truckee Future Without Drug Dependence Coalition.

'PREVENTING YOUTH USE'

As for the perception of harm, 34 percent of TTUSD seventh-graders, 53 percent of ninth-graders and 71 percent of 11th-graders who took the voluntary survey perceived smoking marijuana occasionally to have "slight" or "no harm."

"What we think is normal, what we think is acceptable (and) what we tell young people what you can and cannot do, could make a big difference here," Bradley said.

Considering those statistics among Tahoe-Truckee teens, local efforts are being taken to send the message that youth substance use is not tolerated — particularly by engaging adults.

For instance, TTFWDD recently created a pledge for parents to create an alcohol and drug free environment for their children and other youth.

Taking it a step further is the town of Truckee's recent social host ordinance, which prohibits any person from hosting or providing a venue for gatherings where minors are possessing or consuming alcohol, marijuana or controlled substances.

While violators are not subject to criminal prosecution or arrest, they are cited and fined.

"All the data shows that the younger teens use the more likely they are to become dependent on alcohol or drugs," said River Coyote, director for TTFWDD. "Preventing the majority of substance abuse means preventing youth use."

According to a 2008 study published by Ken C. Winters and Chih-Yuan S. Lee examining the link between age of use and dependency, 17 percent of people who start marijuana use at 13 years old become addicted — compared to 4 percent of users who start at 21 years old or above.

In 2013, 57 youth ages 12 to 17 were in drug treatment in Placer County, a number that doesn't include those who seek private treatment. Of the 57 youth, marijuana was the drug of choice for 55 percent, according to the county. In 2014, 68 youth were in county treatment, with 62 percent seeking help for marijuana use.

A breakdown of these figures in terms of eastern and western county is not available, Coyote said.

Nevada County youth treatment data for 2014 is currently not available, Bradley said.

HOW DANGEROUS IS MARIJUANA?

Community Recovery Resources, or CoRR, a private nonprofit that provides services for substance use disorders in Nevada and Placer counties, reported supporting 21 students at Truckee and North Tahoe high schools through its school-based early intervention programs in 2014.

CoRR served 374 clients of all ages in its Truckee center and 263 clients in Kings Beach center last year, with clients primarily residing where they sought treatment, said Ariel King Lovett, deputy director of CoRR.

While alcohol is the primary reason people enter treatment, Lovett said CoRR sees "considerable" marijuana addiction.

However, in terms of addiction, marijuana is overall less addictive than other legal and illegal drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

It reports that 32 percent of tobacco users, 23 percent of heroin users, 17 percent of cocaine users and 15 percent of alcohol drinkers become dependent, whereas 9 percent of all marijuana users develop dependence.

Major factors for marijuana dependency are age of use, amount of use and frequency of use, Bradley said.

Beyond an increased risk of dependency, youth who use marijuana regularly are susceptible to other harms, Bradley said.

"From about 12 to 24, there's so much development going on, and if young people are flooding there brains with foreign chemicals, they are not going to develop those natural pathways, those reward seeking behaviors, (and) … figure out how to deal with stress, anxiety," he said.

Heavy marijuana use starting in the teen years has been linked to IQ drops, lower life satisfaction and achievement and adverse health effects such as cardiovascular disease and hormonal effects, Bradley said.

SEPARATING 'USE FROM ABUSE'

Hanya Barth, owner and founder of Compassionate Health Options, which has a Truckee office, said she believes a healthy lifestyle for teens would not include marijuana along with cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs.

However, when used appropriately, marijuana can have medical benefits for individuals, said Barth, who is also a physician and marijuana expert.

They include relieving pain, seizures, nausea and vomiting, inflammation, and anxiety.

"It is important to separate use from abuse," Barth said. "A glass of wine with dinner may have beneficial health effects, whereas a bottle of wine will be detrimental. A little marijuana to help someone sleep can be beneficial — whereas all day, excessive use can be detrimental."

Yet, the Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it's not currently accepted for medical use and has a high potential for abuse.

This makes studying the drug difficult, limiting scientific proof regarding marijuana.

A systematic review on cannabis recently published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, for example, found while many of the 79 trials studied did show some improvements in health symptoms, but most of those did not achieve statistical significance.

Lead scientist Penny Whiting, from University Hospitals Bristol in the U.K. and her colleagues wrote: "Further large, robust, randomized clinical trials are needed to confirm the effects of cannabinoids, particularly on weight gain in patients with HIV/AIDS, depression, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, psychosis, glaucoma and Tourette syndrome are required.

"Further studies evaluating cannabis itself are also required because there is very little evidence on the effects and (adverse events) of cannabis."

Learn more

The Tahoe Truckee Future Without Drug Dependenc e, formed in January 2010, is composed of diverse volunteers from at least 12 different sectors working together to prevent youth substance abuse.

Sectors include youth, parents, faith, schools, youth serving organizations, law enforcement, business, civic, government, health care, media, and other treatment professionals. It’s mission is simple: “To build a community free from drug and alcohol abuse.”

Visit http://www.ttfwdd.com to learn more.

The Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee, meanwhile, is a partnership of more than 45 health, social service, education and community-based nonprofits and public organizations that meets monthly to address fundamental needs of families in the Tahoe Truckee Region.

“Collectively, we identify emerging community issues and develop strategies with our combined vision and resources,” according to the group’s website.

Visit http://www.communitycollaborative.org to learn more.

Also, visit http://www.communitycollaborative.org/meeting-calendar/minutes-handouts to view minutes of the monthly meetings, including those from September’s on youth drugs.

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