Student pot use rises at DC middle, high schools

Marijuana use among students rose after the District of Columbia decriminalized pot in 2014 and legalized it for ages 21 and over in 2015.  Now we have some statistics about middle schools and high schools.  After troubling information came out about increased usage, The Blunt Truth campaign launched as an underage prevention initiative.

In Ward 7, for example, there was a three-fold increase in 30-day use of marijuana among surveyed middle school students from 2013 to 2015, from 2.5% to 7.8%. For high school students surveyed, there was a 28% increase from 2013 to 2015, from 24% to 30.7%.   Parental acceptance of the drug use was 15% in 2013, but grew to 32% in 2015.

Decriminalization began in July, 2014, while full legalization started in February of 2015.   It is not surprising that there was a 28% increase in student pot usage from 2013 to 2015.

Cigarette usage continues to be lower than marijuana, alcohol and prescription drugs use. Nearly 8% of middle schoolers reported marijuana past month marijuana use in 2015, while 4.3% reported using alcohol.  Marijuana is also the most common drug of abuse among high schoolers, although alcohol is not far behind.

Susie Cambria, Project co- coordinator of the Ward 7 Safe and Drug Free Communities Coalition, reported these findings to Yvette Alexander of City Council and members of the Committee on Health and Human Services.   Cambria said:  “While it is not unusual for young people to try various drugs as they get older, I think we would all agree that this is troubling and must be addressed through increased prevention initiatives implemented.”

The Blunt Truth Campaign as a Resource

Although the nation’s capital does not allow commercial sales as in Colorado, any form of legalization leads to decreased perception of risk.  Youth usage of pot often leads to loss of interest in schools and can result in more students dropping out. For those who use between ages 12 and 17, and continue regularly for many years, there’s an average IQ loss of 6-8 points by age 36.  Youthful pot users also more have a higher risk for depression and suicide.

The Blunt Truth educates residents about the health implications of marijuana and provides information about prevention and treatment.  The District of Columbia Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) and the Department of Health (DOH) launched the campaign.

An interactive website, debunks the myths about marijuana. It explains that marijuana use and possession are illegal for individuals under 21 years of age.  It helps parents to find resources. Parents can download the materials directly from the website.

Marijuana use in DC

In July 2016, the District of Columbia published a report about marijuana usage by residents of the District. According to the report 17% of adults were regular users of marijuana in 2013. Marijuana use was heaviest in Wards 5 and 7 and among men.  Among adults in the District, blacks use at a rate of 21.6 %, whites, 13.3%, and other races, 20.5%. The largest group of users was 18-24 years old, 41 %, and only 5% of users were 65 or older.  Parents Opposed to Pot emphasizes that the brain is still developing between ages 18 and 24 and usage is still very risky.

“There are many myths when it comes to marijuana use and its effects on physical and mental wellness.  It’s critical that everyone understand the facts about marijuana consumption.” said Dr. Tanya A. Royster, DBH Director and Dr. LaQuandra S. Nesbitt, DOH Director in a joint statement. “We’ve put together resources for parents and caregivers to have conversations aimed at preventing underage marijuana use and to get help or treatment as needed.”

Youth, parents, teachers can access the campaign through social media,  Use @DrugFreeYouthDC to find the campaign on Facebook or follow the campaign on Twitter.