How do you talk to children about marijuana in a state where it’s legal?


ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – As legal marijuana becomes more mainstream, the conversations about how to talk to children about cannabis have been evolving in Alaska.

Arguably it’s still a more taboo subject than talking about drinking alcohol, but every day the industry becomes more and more a part of every day lives here. Experts say parents should be upfront with their children about the impacts of marijuana — especially on young, still developing brains.

The Anchorage School District begins teaching about marijuana use starting in kindergarten and it goes through 10th grade.

When legalization occurred, teachers said they had to adjust their way of talking about cannabis and the conversations continue to evolve today as consumption habits change.

“Kids are kind of getting, I think, mixed messages from the younger age when it was like ‘just say no,’” said Tiffany Nogg, an eighth grade health teacher at Begich Middle School. “Now it’s kind of everywhere. They’re even getting favorable media information out there. It’s kind of the myth that marijuana is no big deal is kind of everywhere right now, especially in Anchorage. So kind of de-mything that and looking at, yes it does have harmful effects, especially in particular to their age.”

A Marijuana Prevention and Alaskan Youth data summary from Alaska’s Office of Misuse and Addiction Prevention shows that among Alaska high school students, about one in five, or 22%, said they used marijuana in 2019.

The survey says more Alaska students use marijuana than smoke cigarettes.

The report also said that prevalence of marijuana use among Alaska youth was similar to use among their peers nationwide. Additionally, there were no significant changes in the prevalence of current marijuana use since before legalization.

Childhood experts say after school programs have been key to preventing an increase in marijuana use by teens, which is one reason marijuana taxes are meant to be spent on education and recidivism reduction programs.

The Boys and Girls Club of Alaska is one group that receives state funding.

“It’s not a ‘just say no’ approach but, it has more to do with ‘we’re going to respect you, we’re going to teach you, and help you be educated about how marijuana can actually impact you and your developing body,’” said Matthew Chase with the Boys and Girls Club of Alaska.

According to the data summary from the state, most students for grades nine through 12 reported smoking marijuana (75%) in 2019, while 11% had taken the drug through edibles.

Edible use in 2019 was nearly three times the percentage reported in 2017, according to the report, and about 5% of students surveyed said they usually vaped marijuana, which is an increase of 2% in 2017.

Increases in edible use is also reflected in an increase in adults ingesting marijuana.

Additionally, 1% more girls over boys reported using marijuana in 2019, and use by 11th graders was reported as slightly more than any other grade.

Nogg says students mostly ask her questions about how marijuana impacts their bodies, especially their brains.

“I just think it’s really important to have that open communication so when they do come to obstacles and choices they have to make, they have someone to talk to,” Nogg said.

Asked how to talk to students whose parents use marijuana around the children in the house, Nogg says she reminds them marijuana is legal.

“I would say, ‘well that’s legal at their time, just like are tobacco and alcohol,’” Nogg said.

Nogg and Chase both say it’s important for children to feel connected to trusted adults to lower the underage use of marijuana.

“We want our kids to be best equipped to lead an amazing and healthy life and one of the big things, for us, is being able to prepare them for better futures and how can our impact provide that for them,” Chase said.

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