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 Experts Discuss the Dangers of Youth Marijuana Use

About a third of middle and high school students in San Diego County say they don’t think people put themselves at great risk when they use marijuana once or twice a week and by 9th grade, one-in-four has already used marijuana, according to data released recently.

This puts young people, with still-developing brains, at great risk, according to researchers.

“These statistics are alarming for educators, because marijuana use affects learning in the classroom, it affects their futures,” said Don Buchheit, interim assistant superintendent at the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE).

Buchheit joined drug-prevention advocates, police and local students Oct. 23 at SDCOE’s main campus to discuss the problems associated with youth drug use and data recently released as part of the 2013 California Healthy Kids Survey.

“In order to maintain a safe and effective learning environment, no student should be under the influence of any illicit drug, including marijuana,” said David Leonhardi, a school resource officer at Monte Vista High School in Spring Valley.

Not only is marijuana much more potent than it was years ago, but its use may also seem more acceptable to some in the community, speakers said.

“Cannabis today is not the cannabis of the ‘60s,” said Dr. Carmen Pulido, a professor at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Cognitive effects from marijuana use include: verbal and working memory decline, and increased errors in executive functioning.

Mia Montes, a student at San Dieguito Academy, discussed her work to help students make positive life choices through the Friday Night Live program.

“This message is so important because many younger students may not have positive teenage role models telling them that drugs are not the norm.”

Friday Night Live is led by high school students who are dedicated to creating and maintaining healthy environments for youth. Local students affiliated with the program have organized town halls and spoken with younger children about why they chose to live drug, alcohol, and tobacco free.

The Marijuana Prevention Initiative, County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, San Diego County Office of Education, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, and UC San Diego are working together to address this critical public health challenge through collaboration, information, and outreach.

“We want to ensure a thriving student population which, in turn, means a healthy economic future for all of us,” said Alfredo Aguirre, behavioral health director with the county Health and Human Services Agency.

Photo: Mia Montes, a student in the Friday Night Live program at San Dieguito Academy, talks about encouraging students to make positive life choices as part of a media event at the San Diego County Office of Education main campus Oct. 23.