Panel explores impact of legal marijuana on youth
A panel discussion Thursday evening in Carbondale that is open to the public and will be simulcast in two other area locations will examine the dangers of marijuana for youth, with the advent of legal recreational marijuana for adults in Colorado.
“We want to encourage the whole valley to start the conversation about what it means for our youth, and not wait until we start to see more of a problem,” said Lori Mueller, executive director of YouthZone, which is one of the sponsors of the event.
“The idea is not to make a political statement but to educate parents and kids about the impact of marijuana on the teenage brain,” she said.
The event, titled “Marijuana and the Teenage Brain,” takes place at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Carbondale Middle School auditorium.
A group of panelists, including a medical professional, substance abuse counselor, police school resource officer and a marijuana business representative, will discuss the facts, myths and some of the yet-unknowns around the issue.
BE HEARD, a web-based youth media program of the True Media Foundation, will also stream the discussion live for participants at Glenwood Springs and Rifle high schools, who will also be able to ask questions of the panel.
Panelists include Frankie Grundler, co-founder of A New Path, an addiction recovery service in Carbondale; Michael Zimmerman, Carbondale’s public school police resource officer; Shelly Evans, executive director for the Community Health Initiative and a substance abuse counselor for more than 30 years; and Dr. Jonathan Birnkrant, pediatrician and adolescent and adult psychiatrist.
Also joining the panel will be James Leonard, co-owner of the Doctor’s Garden in Carbondale, which became the Roaring Fork Valley’s first recreational marijuana store in January.
Since that time, a second retail recreational marijuana outlet has opened in Carbondale, two are now operating in Aspen and one is set to open as soon as next week in Glenwood Springs.
“It’s really important to have the perspective of this new industry on the panel,” Mueller said in reference to the legalization of controlled and licensed recreational marijuana sales to adults age 21 and older in Colorado, which started in January.
Colorado voters, in November 2012, approved Amendment 64, which legalized the possession and private cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana by adults for recreational use, and paved the way for a new retail industry after state and local regulations were finalized last year.
“The business people have been very receptive to being part of this discussion, and they more than anyone want to keep it out of the hands of kids,” Mueller said. “This will be a very interesting discussion for kids and teenagers.”
Mueller and youth co-moderator Felix Jimenez will ask a set of prepared questions of the panelists, followed by a time for questions from the audience, including those listening in from the remote locations.
Dinner will also be served at each of the three locations, in an effort to encourage more people to attend, Mueller said.
YouthZone sponsored a similar panel discussion two years ago in Glenwood Springs, at a time when local law enforcement and school officials became alarmed as medical marijuana, which has been legal in Colorado since 2000, was finding its way into the hands of youth.
Health professionals spoke then about the dangers of marijuana use on a still-developing adolescent brain.
Mueller points to research that shows an eight-point drop in IQ among marijuana users tested at age 13 and again at age 38.
“What we know is that marijuana attaches to the pleasure center of the brain, and when that brain is still developing it can overstimulate the pleasure center and you can begin to lose those pleasure receptors,” she said of prevailing research used by YouthZone and other organizations in their education efforts.
“What we often see happen with teenagers who use marijuana is that they stop doing what they like to do, and find less pleasure in the things they used to enjoy,” Mueller said during a recent presentation to Glenwood Springs City Council. “What we don’t know from the research is if you ever get those pleasure receptors back.”
While education around the dangers of alcohol use by teens has been successful, there is a common belief, especially with the growing acceptance of marijuana, that it is a safe alternative to alcohol.
“It’s very important that we have this community discussion, because there are a lot of myths out there,” Mueller said.
One of the more frightening aspects of the new marijuana trade is the introduction of hard-to-detect edibles that can end up in the hands of teens and even young children, such as marijuana-infused brownies, cookies, candies and even sodas, she said.
“The problem is that it’s hard for parents to monitor something like that,” she said.
YouthZone provides counseling, prevention and mentoring programs for youth, and works with juvenile court referrals throughout Garfield County and the Roaring Fork Valley.
Mueller said there has not been a noticeable increase in regular marijuana use among YouthZone clients since recreational marijuana sales began.
However, that number did increase from 10 percent to 25 percent of YouthZone clients who said they used marijuana at least once a month following the boom in medical marijuana dispensaries around 2010.
For more information about the impacts of marijuana on youth, visit the Facebook page for Colorado Teen Weed Brain, which is a project of Roaring Fork Leadership, one of the sponsors of the Thursday event.
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