On April 22nd & 23rd, Ty Sells did a workshop with all UAHS freshmen on marijuana. Here is a recap.
Are you guys excited to talk about marijuana? Here’s what we’re going to do, this isn’t what my job usually is. I work in the schools and I talk about youth development, I almost never talk about specific chemicals to a large group. Usually the schools, I’ve actually spoken here before, and I talk all about how we treat each other.
I never say, “don’t do drugs”, I’m not going to hit you with a lot of facts, why? because you guys already know that. So to save some time, I’m just going to have you shout out what you already know. How many chemicals are in a joint? There are over 400 chemicals, there are 61 cannabinoids in a joint. Doesn’t that sound like a breakfast cereal? Chocolately coated cannabinoids?
I don’t usually cover the facts because it doesn’t change behavior. If you’ve ever walked up to someone who is smoking weed and said “excuse me, did you know there are 61 cannabinoids in that joint?” doesn’t work. What I am going to do today, I’m going to tell you as honestly as I can about marijuana, I’m not going to lie to you and I’m not going to try to scare you.
“Why?” Because you’re not “scare-able”. Developmentally, where your brain is right now, stuff is never going to happen to you. Scare tactics don’t work. They used to try to scare us, like when I was a kid, there was a commercial where the guy held up an egg and he says, “This is your brain”, and he cracks an egg into a really hot skillet and says “This is your brain on drugs, any questions?” And I thought, “Yeah, can I get toast with my brain, that looks pretty good.” I thought this was ridiculous. We are still trying to scare you guys. Have you seen the commercial where the girl is trying to pay for a pack of cigarettes, and the cashier keeps saying “not enough”…so she peels off her face, or the dude pulls out his tooth and tries to pay with that? Have you seen the one where the cigarette box turns into an alien and attacks her. Scare tactics don’t change behavior, because in your mind, you’re smart, you know that bad stuff can happen. But because your brain isn’t fully developed, teens do things anyway.
First we’re going to talk about the process of addiction. Then we’re going to focus on marijuana for the remainder of the time.
[Ty draws the chart above while speaking about this progression with the students.] This is normal, we all know what our own normal is. Early on in use, and when young people use, how do they feel? High. We used to not be able to say this, because they thought if we told you this you would want to try it. I’m just telling you what happens. Early on in use, you’ve never used before, you get high. But, when you come down, what happens? Early on in use you experience no consequences, you feel normal. The thing is you don’t know when your “Early on in use” is over. You don’t know, there are a lot of factors, how much you use, how often you use, if you have a history of addiction in your family, the chemical you’re using has a different addiction rate… So you don’t know when your “Early on in use” is over, there’s no sign that pops up that says “Your ‘Early on in use’ is Over”. How do we know when we are moving out of that “Early on in use” phase? Students contribute: “You have to use more to get as high.” Now when you come down, you don’t feel the way you used to feel, This is also is a phase when you start thinking about the chemical, this is where you start making some decisions, or thinking “What party am I going to go to?, “Who’s going to have it, how am I going to get it, who am I going to ask to buy it”…your thoughts start being consumed by when you’re going to do it next. Now after you get high, you wake up the next morning and you don’t feel like going to school. As you continue to use, you start experiencing loss. Loss is where there begins to become consequences to your use. I’m talking about loss of relationships, loss of friendships, the people you used to hang out with are no longer cool, you don’t think they’re cool because they’re not engaging in similar behaviors, you start searching out friends who are doing the same. You’re losing opportunities, maybe you can’t get a job because you can’t pass a pee test, or don’t make the team. You’re losing passion for things, losing interest in stuff. Losing freedom because you keep getting grounded for getting busted, getting suspended or expelled. This is where you start experiencing loss, again—no one’s dying—I can’t scare you with that, but this is what starts happening. Over time, you’re using—just to feel normal—just to feel the way you felt when all this started. Now what do we call that? Dependence. A lot of people you know function everyday dependent on something. Some people have to take pills to sleep, some people have to take pills just to get through the day, some people have to have a drink when they get home from work…All of us know somebody who’s day doesn’t start until they get a cup of coffee. Addiction is when your normal changes. You accept a lower quality of life and you’re still preoccupied with the chemical, right? This is the person in our life or family that everyone says, “I can’t believe they live like that. What’s going on? I was raised the same way?” Does anyone know someone like that in their family? Statistically we all have someone in our family suffering from addiction. Addiction is where you accept a lower quality of life, but still continue to be preoccupied with the substance. Can you get out of this at any point? [Students] “Yes” You can get out of this at any point, it’s called treatment. Is it harder to get out on the treatment side, or the “earlier” side? It’s harder on the treatment side. The reason why I want to show you this, is if you have a friend that you see going through this, you can tell them the things you are noticing, real life examples about them and talk to them about getting help. Does everyone who starts here [on the left] end up in addiction? No. But, everyone who becomes addicted had the same time “Early on in use” phase where they were used with little to no consequences.
The reason why we are going to talk specifically about marijuana, is that the people who work in my field prevention, we know this: If something has a lesser perception of risk, and it is made more available, it has a higher impact on young people. Marijuana is that topic right now. If you heard that a friend of yours was smoking marijuana, what would you think about it, is it a big deal? When I was a kid, in the 80’s, if one of my friends was drinking, we were like, meh, but if one of our friends was smoking weed, we would say, really disappointed, “Man….we lost him…” So, now, people don’t look at it that way anymore. So it’s a lower perception of risk now, and is it more accessible now? [Yes] Why? It’s becoming legal.
You guys are being sold on this and you don’t even know it. Nowadays, everyone is saying “Marijuana is Safe”. What are some of the reason’s you’ve heard? [Students list off the following points]
1. It’s Natural 2. It’s Medicine 3. It’s Not As Bad as Other Drugs 4. It’s Legal 5. It’s not Addictive 6. Can’t Overdose from Marijuana 7. Can’t Die from Marijuana
Here’s how I know you’re buying into these messages. Let me ask the teachers, this is the 7th time I’ve done this at Upper Arlington High School, what are the 7 things every group of students have come up with with in all 7 sessions? The EXACT SAME 7 things. Has there been any variance? No. Somebody is selling you something. I have nothing to gain here from whether you start using or remain drug-free. They don’t pay me more if you guys decide to be drug-free. I hate the fact that you’re exploited, by decisions adults make. Adults make these decisions, you guys have no say in it, and it ends up impacting you guys way more than everyone else.
So let’s get going the first one.
Can I scratch off “Not as Bad” just because it’s not an argument for safety. Like, if I jump off a 2 story building, that’s not as bad as jumping off a 4 story building. You shouldn’t make life decisions like “Well…it’s not as bad as crack.” Like, should that be my standard? If you really want to use “Not as Bad” as an argument, you should be asking, is not smoking weed as bad as smoking weed? Does anyone want to argue? It’s interesting when people want to debate. You’re cool with this? I can go ahead and scratch this one off? [Students say Yes]
My next favorite is natural. I love this one, “It’s a plaaaant, dude.” When someone said this to me once, I really had to think about it for a second. Can we go around and name things that are natural but aren’t safe? I’ll start, rattlesnakes. [Students laugh and contribute] Cyanide… Let’s just stick with plants, can anyone name a plant that isn’t safe [Students contribute] Poison Ivy…If poison is in the title, it’s probably not safe. Certain mushrooms. Poisonous berries. Where does tobacco come from? Plants. Prescription medication? Plants. Heroin? Plants. All of these things come from plants, so natural doesn’t equal safe.
I was doing this exact same workshop in Dublin, but I was doing it with adults. Adults who are against what I’m talking about like to come and debate with me, I love it. It’s a blast. So when I was done talking about how natural doesn’t equal safe, this lady came up to me and said “Hey, you can’t say natural is unsafe. How can you refute essential oils?” [Students laugh] She said “Essential oils healed my arm.” She told me what she put together, eucalyptus, some kind of berries, you mix it all together, rub it on your arm and it makes the pain go away. I said, “What if you bottled that up and tried to sell it as medicine? What would happen?” She’d get arrested. We can’t just start calling stuff medicine.
The pot that people smoked back in the 1960’s had 1-3% THC. THC is a cannabinoid and is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. We only know of about 2 or 3 of the 60 chemicals in marijuana, we’ve only studied a couple. Pot that people are using now, the average is about 12% THC. Did pot plants get together and say “Hey man, they really like us, let’s give them more THC.” OR did we genetically modify it? It is genetically modified. When scientists modify marijuana they drive up the THC, they also drive DOWN the CBD, which is the chemical that helps diminish the effects of THC in relation to psychosis. Why did they do that? Money. They can sell it for more. We can get more money off of you if we offer different strengths.
The next one I want to cover is “Not Addictive”. How many think marijuana is addictive? [several students raise their hand] How many think it’s not? [some students raise their hands] Don’t Know? [others raise their hands] I’m going to answer this question, so you can no longer say you don’t know, or this is a gray area. Marijuana is addictive. Is it highly addictive? Let’s find out.
If myself, and 10 other of the adults in the room started smoking week, alright we’re gettin’ lit, and we’re doing our thing…the likelihood that one of us will become addicted is 1 in 11. What percentage is that? [Student answers 9%] Thank you, this is the first UA class, where someone has said the answer. Is that a high number? Here’s the thing, remember when I said “Is alcohol addictive?” and everyone said “YES”, if we take the addiction rate for that same audience of adults, the addiction rate for alcohol is about 1 in 12. AND here’s the other thing, remember when I said we’re getting lit in the other example? Teenagers, if you start smoking now, the number drops to about 1 in 6. If you smoke every day, chronically—no pun intended, the number drops to about 1 in 4. Is that highly addictive?
Dr. Nora Volkow with SAMHSA she is the one who did the studies and researched those rates. The difference is that the withdraw from marijuana looks differently. If I’m addicted to alcohol, do you know how long it takes to process a drink of alcohol? One hour. If I have one can of beer, it takes about an hour to process it and pee it out. It’s water soluble. If you’re addicted, and you need alcohol, you’re going to look sick, your body is shaking, etc.
Marijuana is different. It attaches to fat cells in your brain, and it builds up in your brain. And the idea is up here [in your brain], how long does marijuana stay in your body? [Students] Forever, 2 days, a month…Marijuana stays in your system for 14-28 days. That’s if you smoke it a little. If you smoke it chronically, it can build up and can be in there for months and years, depending on how much and how frequently you smoke. So when I stop smoking? Where is it? It’s still in me. Is it affecting me? Yes. It can have psychotic properties and can knock of 8 IQ points. Now is that a lot? For a guy like me, that’s pretty big! How many geniuses do we have in here? Do we have any certifiable geniuses? Here’s a clue, the people that raise their hands aren’t usually the geniuses. If a genius loses 8 IQ points, is it a big deal? NO.
This kid I used to sit next to in art class, his name was Dennis, he smoked more weed than anyone I knew. He would get straight A’s, my mom would be like “Why can’t you be more like Dennis?” I used to think, “I can’t afford the weed." [Students laugh] I’d be like “I’m trying mom.” So if I said to Dennis, “Dude, you’re gonna get dumb if you keep smoking weed.” He would look at me like “You’re already dumb” so for me I’m not trying to scare you, but if you’re a genius, nothing may happen. If you’re not a genius, it might be the difference between normal and challenging. So for some of you this may be a big deal, others it may not.
It also does affect shaping your mind, developing your brain. There’s something going on with your brain right now, called mylenation. It’s the white matter in your brain creating neuropathways. Starting to smoke and drink at this age impacts that mylenation. I can tell you that any damage that is done now, cannot be corrected later. So again, let’s think about that white matter. Do you guys have iPhones? What’s the color of the charger? [White] That white cord on the outside is supposed to protect what’s going on inside the cord. How many of you have ever looked at your charger and said “It looks fine” but then you plug it in and try to charge your phone and nothing happens. Then you turn it, twist it, put a hat on, stand a different way, and then it starts charging. Do you take that charger to the store and ask them to fix it? Or do you buy a new one? [New one] Because you can’t fix it. Same thing with your brain, if you do something to it now, you can’t fix it later.
OK. No one dies or O.D.s (overdoses). If you’re smoking pot, you’re not going to OD. You’d have to smoke so much, it is very unlikely to happen. There aren’t any reports of people dying from ONLY smoking pot. Just weed, here’s the thing, I said “SMOKING”. There are other ways to consume marijuana. You guys know what this is? It is clearly, a gummy bear. Edibles are a different story. Let’s just say you can’t overdose from smoking, does that make it safe? I’m watching CSPAN and they’re doing a confirmation of the new leader of the Office of Drug Control Policy. And there’s this one senator that is Pro-Legalization and he starts yelling at this new guy “Just name one person, one person that’s ever overdosed from marijuana, and I’ll listen to everything else you have to say.” And the new guy says “I can’t, you know I can’t, because we don’t have any documented cases that anyone’s overdosed from smoking marijuana.” But here’s what I would say, “OK cool, you’ve been saying how much better it is than tobacco, can you name one person, one person who’s ever overdosed from smoking tobacco?” So, it’s not always about the short-term effects, people are so fixated on that, you don’t overdose from smoking tobacco, you can’t overdose from smoking marijuana.
Edibles are a different story. Can one joint get multiple people high? Does anyone know? Have you heard about people smoking marijuana together, they each take a puff and share it with each other, it’s referred to as “Puff, Puff _____” [Some students say “Pass”] Teachers, did you make a note of who said pass? Just kidding.
How many people can get high off of one edible? One gummy bear, highly potent, boiled down THC, 12%, how many people can get high? 20? 1? The answer is 4. Has anyone has ever seen people take a tiny bite of a gummy bear and pass it to the next person, right? No. So one gummy bear, does the person get affected slower or faster by the marijuana than smoking? SLOWER. Because it has to go through the digestive process. Because it takes such a long time, people are waiting to get high and think nothings happening, what do they do? [Take more.] What’s happening with edibles, is we now have documented cases of people consuming so many edibles that they have had psychotic events to the related THC, those psychotic events can result in a death. When I first started talking about this stuff, I always had to say, “no one has ever died from smoking weed.” I can no longer say that because we now have documented cases of deaths related to edibles.
This is a tricky one, I’m not going to scratch it off, because I still think there needs to be more studying done. But here’s something I want you to think about, what does it cure? [Student says “It heals everything.”] Does it cure cancer? [Students laugh, No. Another student says it doesn’t cure anything it just treats symptoms.] Pain is one of those symptoms. What are some other things they say it treats? [Student says Anxiety] It treats something called “Wasting Disorder”. It’s used to help people who don’t want to eat because they are undergoing cancer treatment, or HIV treatment. What do we joke about when people smoke pot, they get the ______ [Students say Munchies]. So that can help. So here’s the thing, for all three of those things we mentioned, there are already medications that you don’t have to smoke that can help treat all three of those problems. They’re already in existence, they’ve already been tested and can be dosed for patients.
Doctor’s can’t dose marijuana, so what they do is they make a recommendation for marijuana. So then you go into a dispensary and you say “I’m experiencing, this list of things.” because apparently it helps everything. So the #1 user of the card in California is a 34 year old white male with a history of drug use, that complains of chronic pain. So, I don’t have chronic pain, but how would you know that? You wouldn’t, right?
What was the last medicine we voted on? Guys, we don’t vote for medicine. We just started calling this stuff medicine when we voted on it. There’s a process things go through, and are studied to determine whether or not it should be used as medicine. There’s a difference between medicine and feeling good.
Anxiety is my favorite example, here’s why. I have an ex wife, does anyone else here have one? No, OK cool. I’m on the phone with her and we’re in an argument, I don’t drink, do drugs, smoke, but I happen to enjoy food. I love bacon, pop tarts, so what happens is…I’m in this argument and I start feeling anxious. I’m sort of panicked, and I find myself standing, looking at the pantry. Interestingly enough, I see a box of pop tarts. And I think to myself, if I just eat 2 or 4 or 8 of those, I’m going to feel way better, right. So I eat the pop tarts and I feel better, and I’m pretty chill now. Does that make pop tarts medicine?
Depression and psychosis has been linked to the higher strains of marijuana that’s being smoked. So people get anxious because they don’t have marijuana, then they smoke some and then they get more anxious, and then they use more. The CBD that helps with kids having seizures, again right now, marijuana is a schedule 1 drug, which means it doesn’t have medicinal value. There are lots of theories about why it should stay a schedule 1, but I think it should be moved to schedule 2, that way we can study it and figure out how it can harm you. Then when they say it’s medicine, I say cool, let it go through the process and we can see if it really is medicine.
So what we’ve found in all these places who have passed marijuana as medicine, what was the next thing they started passing? People say recreational, I say commercial. That’s always been the design. If you go back in history, look at how we marketed cigarettes. Big tobacco, and the influence it made to become the powerhouse it is by selling nicotine to people. We’re doing it again with vape. Nicotine is highly addictive. Almost everybody who starts using nicotine continues using it. It has a very high addiction rate, it’s eeeeeasy to get addicted. Right now we have doctors like Sanjay Gupta saying marijuana is no big deal, it’s actually good for you. If you go back in old magazines, they have pictures of doctors saying cigarettes are good for you. With marijuana, it’s the same playbook. And we as adults are failing you, I know by smoking tobacco you could get cancer, but we haven’t studied marijuana enough to know whether it’s linked to cancer.
The last one is legal. Of all the states that have made recreational use legal, how many have made it legal for teens? NONE. So even if it’s legal, it’s not for you. Even the people who are passing it say they don’t want young people to have it. Great call. Here’s the scary part of it, what drug can you think of has had more dangerous impact on society than any other drug? ALCOHOL. Why is it more dangerous? It’s accessible. It’s around all the time. Why is it more accessible? Because it’s legal. Let’s make marijuana legal, right? They say “let’s regulate it and keep it away from the kids.” Is alcohol regulated? Is vape regulated? They’re both regulated. Do you guys know any friends that know how to get alcohol? We all know a friend that’s had a beer and lived to tell about it. [Student mentions vape] Oh yeah, remember when I talked about lower quality of life? Where does everyone who vapes go? In the bathroom. Like think about it, can you imagine someone saying, “Hey I’m going to get a salad, you wanna share it with me in the bathroom?” [Students laugh] AND you’re putting it in your mouth and multiple people are using it, like “Dude, I’ve got this spoon, want to meet me in the bathroom and put it in your mouth? Sweet! I’m there!” It blows my mind. But, the idea is that Legal doesn’t equal safe.
Parents, read this letter from Dr. Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
Marijuana is linked to school failure, lower income, and poorer quality of life. Learn how to talk to your kids and communicate the risks.
Parents, your disapproval of marijuana is the #1 reason your teen will decide not to try it. Learn tips to start the conversation here.
For more facts on marijuana and warning signs that your student may be using, click here.
Click here for other helpful and free resources, including a family check-up, a quiz on drug myths, and other helpful resources.
Here is a letter from Dr. Volkow to share with your teen: