2017-05-25 / News

Summit focuses on youth and marijuana use

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


From left, junior Payje Leclerc, sophomore Tyler Michaud and Cathy Reed, licensed clinical social worker at Old Orchard Beach High School, after the 2017 Marijuana Summit hosted by Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition. Leclerc and Michaud were both part of the youth panel and answered questions regarding the challenges they face surrounding marijuana use and their peers. (Grant McPherson photo) From left, junior Payje Leclerc, sophomore Tyler Michaud and Cathy Reed, licensed clinical social worker at Old Orchard Beach High School, after the 2017 Marijuana Summit hosted by Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition. Leclerc and Michaud were both part of the youth panel and answered questions regarding the challenges they face surrounding marijuana use and their peers. (Grant McPherson photo) SACO – Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition held its fourth annual Marijuana Summit at People’s Choice Credit Union to empower York County high school students to live sober, goal-oriented lives.

In attendance were junior Payje Leclerc and sophomore Tyler Michaud of Old Orchard Beach High School, as well as high school students from York and Kennebunk, Biddeford police officers, school nurses, administrators and social workers from communities in York County. The Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition is part of the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine and is supported by Maine’s Center for Disease Control, the Fund for Healthy Maine and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Its goal is to support healthy lifestyles by promoting healthy eating and physical activity and educate to promote prevention of tobacco use and substance abuse.

The summit began with a panel of nine high school students answering questions about their choice to pursue a substance free lifestyle and what the effects of marijuana have been on their peers. Senior Julia Harrod of York High School and president of TIDALWAVSE explained how difficult it is to talk to friends about marijuana when use is so prevalent and accepted in the media.

“Some of my best friends use but I can’t cross that line with them. I can have a conversation without judgment because as long as they’re talking to me they’re one step safer. As long as they’re not alone,” Harrod said.

TIDALWAVSE is a York High School student organization whose members have pledged to remain substance free until high school graduation and who work within their community to promote a chemical free lifestyle. The acronym stands for Teens In Drug Awareness Leading, Working And Valuing Self Esteem.

Gina Brodsky, a student assistance counselor at York High School and faculty advisor for TIDALWAVSE, feels that marijuana is the “big tobacco” of our time as companies like Phillip Morris observe trends in teen substance use. However, she said it’s important to normalize substance free living and remind people that 70 percent of Maine students report not using drugs. Many parents are also caught up in the cult of self-esteem, Brodsky said.

“We tell kids that they have to feel good, when in reality we should be telling them they need to do good things in order to feel good,” Brodsky said.

Senior Ryan Webb is the co-vice president of TIDALWAVSE and understands the risk of long term marijuana use and how it can change a person’s perspective.

“The scariest part of using is once you start it becomes normal. Any experience when you’re not using becomes less enjoyable. You’re not going to be able to achieve those same dopamine levels and the rest of your life can become dull because of the choices you’ve made. You can’t reach those (same levels) again,” Webb said.

Christian Teter, an associate professor of psychopharmacology at the University of New England, presented a new study published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Teter said according to the report, because human brains are not fully developed until age 25, there are significant differences in adult brain function connected to the age at which someone first uses marijuana. If someone starts smoking early in their life and continues frequently, they have a much higher risk for problems with cannabinoids in the future, Teter said.

Cannabinoids are the chemical component in marijuana that have been linked to psychosis in frequent users. However, there is also evidence it provides relief for those with chronic pain and alleviates symptoms of chemotherapy such as nausea and vomiting. Teter said that even after one use, once a new drug enters a person’s system the body pushes back immediately.

“You can’t put a drug in your body over and over without feeling an effect,” Teter said.

Scott M. Gagnon, director of operations at AdCare Educational Institute of Maine, a non profit dedicated to addressing problems of substance abuse, bahavioral health and other public health issues, discussed the various implications of marijuana legalization in the state. He said with the advent of edibles, normalization of marijuana is on a scale not seen in the past. Sixty percent of high school students in Maine perceive a low risk of smoking marijuana one to two times per week, Gagnon said.

After the summit there was a brief review session amongst attendees to discuss what was most helpful from the summit and what could be done to improve future conferences. Leclerc and Michaud now have some new ideas for Old Orchard Beach High School after listening to other students on the panel.

Leclerc and Michaud are both members of Natural Helpers, a group comprised of Old Orchard Beach students who can be a resource for other teens struggling in the community who may not feel comfortable approaching an adult. Leclerc said she wanted to attend the Marijuana Summit to bring new ideas back to their own organization.

“When we listened to the TIDALWAVSE kids and how they got so involved in their community, encouraging kids to sign off on being substance free, I would like to put that in our own community. Getting kids interested in middle school would help prevent a lot of problems,” Leclerc said.

Michaud enjoyed listening to his peers share their own stories surrounding substance use. He said it was important to attend the summit to share his own experiences as well.

“I wanted to come and give my perspective as a student, so adults could use our ideas,” Michaud said.

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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