November Centerspread: Marijuana


Chris Bell, Opinions Managing Editor

“I think my concern is whether students are making decisions that are affecting them negatively, I want to know what’s underneath it. Why are you getting high during school? Are you stressed? Are you a risk taker? Or do you just like getting high and the feeling?” Interim headmaster Anthony Meyer said regarding his worries about marijuana use in students at the high school.

Frequent marijuana use among teens has often been demonized by medical professionals, educators, parents and health and fitness teachers for its numerous negative effects including impaired teenage brain development, breathing problems and an increased heart rate. Frequent use however, is often implicative of much worse than making one’s I.Q. lower. The mental health of users is also at risk.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana users of all ages often report lower life satisfaction, poorer mental health and more relationship problems than nonusers. According to the 2016 edition of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered by the Brookline Department of Public Health, 51 percent of students did report recent use of the drug subsequently reported having depression as opposed to the 20 percent of those who did not report recent use who also reported being depressed.

Meyer said that as an administrator he is mostly concerned with the reasons behind students decisions for smoking marijuana, at least in frequency and or during or before the school day.  

“And that’s what I really care about. Certainly I care about good decisions and managing your business, and that’s what I deal with right away and in general, but we are responsible for going deeper and asking what’s the reason for the decision? And I don’t think it’s a major problem but there’s definitely access to it,” Meyer said.

Mary Minott, a social worker at the high school who also works for the Substance Abuse Prevention Program said that habitual smoking can lead to problems rather than to solutions.

“It just kind of snowballs because you start smoking pot just to relieve yourself from feeling stressed, and next thing you know you’re smoking more, and you don’t get your homework done because you were getting high with friends, and then you go to class without your homework done, which is really stressful, so then maybe the next time you don’t want to see your teacher when you haven’t done your homework so you don’t go to class.”

She also stated that marijuana addiction is a testament to the culture of stress at the high school or at least to personal stress that the students experience.

“People debate whether marijuana is addictive, but they do it to deal with stress. They get into a pattern where they can’t stop,” Minott said.

Students who fall into this pattern often end up dealing with mental health issues. According to a Youth Risk Behavior Survey, students at the high school who reported using marijuana over 100 times in their lives is four percent, meaning about 76 of the high school’s 1,905 students reported this statistic. Minot said she treats students dealing with substance abuse similarly to those students she treats with mental health problems.

One student was interviewed anonymously and said he smoked marijuana fairly regularly.

“There’s a lot of stress as high school goes on and there’s a certain pleasure of being in a group of kids who care less about the stresses of society, who want to just hang out and be kids again,” the student said. “Everyone’s just relaxed and hanging out. I think for me personally, I don’t use weed as a way of escaping my problems. I don’t like to do it that way. But it’s a way to make things fun.”

The anonymous student said he has had to figure out where the line is between “having fun” and letting marijuana control his life. He also said many people have adopted an attitude of false-positivity toward marijuana.

“The big thing that I’ve seen that I haven’t seen before is kids doing it on weekdays and kids trying to get their homework and say I can be productive because of this strain or whatever,” he said.

While lifetime dependence risk on marijuana is about six percent less than that of alcohol (nine percent versus 15 percent) its perceived risk amongst high school students nationally has dropped.

“The majority of high school seniors do not think occasional marijuana smoking is harmful, with only 36.1 percent saying that regular use puts the user at great risk, compared to 39.5 percent in 2013 and 52.4 percent in 2009,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

This shift in attitudes is troubling as the THC percentage in marijuana, the active ingredient which causes its harmful side effects, has steadily increased over the past few decades. Data from the University of Mississippi’s Potency Monitoring program showed that the average potency of marijuana has increased from 3.4 percent THC in 1993 all the way to 12.4 percent THC in 2012. This trend is indicative of marijuana consumers yearn for a sharper and more noticeable “high.”

“I think it’s always been this easy to get weed in Brookline, from what I’ve heard, since kids and dealers are getting them from dispensaries, it’s stronger. In state or out of state. It depends on the dealer obviously. The weed is getting stronger and kids are more interested in it, so it’s more socially acceptable to be someone who smokes it more often, I guess,” he said.

While reports of students having ever-used marijuana at the high school declined in the past few years, the national number has stagnated. Simultaneously the figures for binge drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes have decreased. Despite the popular belief that marijuana is not an addictive drug, it is very possible to become dependent on it. Minott said that it is upsetting to see this happen in high school students.

“Unfortunately I see it more around kids who are sort of heavy marijuana users, not the occasional saturday night, but kids who smoke during the week. I mean, who has time to get high on a weeknight?” Minott said.