Tecumseh Coalition for Youth presents program challenging the myths of marijuana use
When April Demers of the Tecumseh Coalition for Youth spoke at the Tecumseh Center for the Arts on Wednesday, her goal was to challenge myths common to both parents and youth about using marijuana. In her work as Community Development Director for the Monroe County Substance Abuse Coalition, Demers has witnessed the power of information in decreasing drug abuse in young people. In only a few years after implementing a fact-based campaign to educate young people, the numbers of Monroe County students abusing drugs and alcohol have dropped approximately 23 percent.“This program is about the concerns about the increase of marijuana use in our youth,” Demers said. “It’s based on giving students the most recent information.”Demers believes knowledge is power for young people when it comes to making an informed decision about whether to use a drug for the first time or continue using drugs. Of all the drugs available, marijuana is often perceived as safe, non-addictive and legal.Much of the information people base their perception on, according to Demers, is based on outdated studies from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Information from this era was unable to link marijuana use to any brain receptors and did not address where the drug was stored once it was ingested into the body.“We really didn’t understand how marijuana affected the brain,” said Demers of outdated research. “It wasn’t until the 90s that we found the receptor in the brain that THC binds to.”Thanks to research from the late 1990s, many of the myths have been dispelled and new studies better show the psychological and physiological effects marijuana has on humans, especially on young people. Demers said the study from which she presents information was done through the National Institute of Health by Dr. David Ohm.Parents need to stay vigilant about the activities of their children, Demers recommended. Regular daily communication makes it easier to see when something is different with a child and makes it easier to talk about tough subjects like drugs, alcohol and sex when those topics come up.She has seen repeatedly how students in the schools are very receptive to the information she presents about the effects drugs and alcohol have on the body. Young people are empowered when they are given scientific information and allowed to decide themselves whether using marijuana is worth the consequences. Gone are the days when intimidation and fear are believed to be a successful prevention tool.The first and most important point to make to young people, Demers emphasized, is that marijuana possession is illegal. The Medical Marijuana law in the state of Michigan has created confusion for many students and some parents into thinking marijuana is no longer illegal. Anyone who possesses marijuana without a medical marijuana card or approval to be a caregiver is breaking the law.Many people are unaware the strength of the drug THC in marijuana has increased from marijuana used 30 and 40 years ago, Demers said. In the 1960s, THC levels were at one to two percent. Now the THC levels can vary from one or two percent to fifteen percent, with users unaware of the THC strength.Another myth that dates back to the decades of the 60s and 70s is marijuana is not addictive and easily leaves the system. According to Demers, THC does attach to receptors in the brain, making it an addictive substance. Some receptors THC bonds to are concentrated in the hippocampus area of the brain, which guides learning and short-term memory.“It does cause impairment.” Demers said. “It makes us wonder how many kids have been diagnosed with learning disabilities when, in fact, it’s drug exposure.”Documented brain scans Demers has seen in research show THC globules attached to brain tissue. Alcohol is a water-soluble drug that moves relatively quickly out of the human body. THC, according to Demers, is a fat-soluble drug and it takes a much longer time to exit the body. Additionally, the human brain is protectively encased in fatty tissue. Researchers are concerned about build-up of THC in young people because of the effect it has on their developing brain function.“It slows our processing, keeps our neurons from synapsing,” said Demers. “Development of the brain is something I’m really concerned with.”Also affected by THC are white blood cells, which have a high fat content. The primary job of white blood cells is to fight infection in the body. Demers spoke of a video showing white blood cells attacking bacteria found in sewer water and how fast the white blood cells moved to destroy the bacteria. When white blood cells exposed to THC were dropped into the same sewer water, they were sluggish and only bumped into the bacteria. Decreased effectiveness of white blood cells demonstrated why regular smokers of marijuana are more prone to infection and illness.Another fact Demers shares with students about the seriousness of marijuana usage is legal repercussions. The charge of minor in possession stays on a person’s record until age 30, and colleges, coaches, credit companies and employers are all able to see the charges.With the facts and information, Demers suggests young people ask themselves, “Is it worth it?” She said the same facts should be shared by parents and educators followed by asking the same question. This interaction may be the key to lower marijuana use for students in Tecumseh. One helpful website Demers recommended to parents and educators is www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/marijuanainfo.The Tecumseh Coalition for Youth continues its work to combat drug use in Tecumseh teens through community education and awareness. Demers plans other informative sessions focusing on good health and success in sports in upcoming months.