Colorado Educators Use Research To Inform Teens About Marijuana

By Kelly Burch 04/20/17

A pair of educators took matters into their own hands and developed a new system for sharing info about MJ use with teens.

Molly Lotz and Sarah Grippas of the Marijuana Education Initiative
Molly Lotz and Sarah Grippas of the Marijuana Education Initiative Photo via YouTube

Working at an alternative high school in Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, Sarah Grippa and Molly Lotz saw that many of their students viewed cannabis as a harmless substance. 

The duo reported that they “witnessed a paradigm shift among our students.”

“We noticed an increase in misinformation regarding youth marijuana impacts and a decrease in students’ perception of harm. We, like many educators, were hearing over and over: ‘It’s natural,’ ‘It’s medicine,’ and ‘It’s legal, so it can’t be so bad,’” Grippa and Lotz recently wrote in an op-ed for the The Denver Post

Grippa and Lotz wanted to provide their students with accurate information about the effects of marijuana, especially on the developing teen brain. However, they wanted to use research rather than rely on scare tactics and the failed “just say no” approach to drug education. 

That led the duo to found the Marijuana Education Initiative in 2015. The initiative aims to provide a comprehensive approach to teaching teens about marijuana, as the drug becomes legal in more places and people around the country become more accepting of marijuana use. 

“We wanted to facilitate accurate and informed conversations with students about marijuana use. The shift in youth perception regarding marijuana requires a shift in the educational approach,” they explained. 

The most important part of that approach involves providing real insight into the effects of marijuana on the developing teen brain. 

“I am agnostic about marijuana legalization and about adult recreational use; however, at MEI we believe that we owe it to our youth to provide research-based, marijuana-specific curricula so that they can make informed decisions,” Grippa wrote in a 2016 blog post. 

The effects of marijuana differ between developing teen brains and adult brains. MEI aims to help students understand that. 

“We worked with professionals in the fields of medicine, adolescent brain development, and the endocannabinoid system to create a multifaceted, researched-based, marijuana-specific curriculum that addresses the complexities of marijuana’s impact on youth development,” Grippa and Lotz wrote. 

During the late teens and early 20s the brain starts the process of myelination, wherein nerve cells are wrapped in a fatty substance that helps protect the cells and stream brain functioning. However, cells that have not gone through the process are more susceptible to harm. 

“Nerve cells that are not yet myelinated are more susceptible to damage from substances such as drugs and alcohol, and therefore substance abuse can impact the development of these important areas of the brain,” Grippa and Lotz wrote.

By sharing such information with teens and the people who they look up to, the founders of MEI hope to encourage informed decision making. 

“The importance of talking to teens about the risks of recreational adolescent marijuana use cannot be overstated. Putting the most current research-based information in the hands of parents, mentors and educators opens the door to helping adolescents make informed decisions about marijuana,” they wrote.

“A well-informed youth is an empowered youth.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.