Marijuana is the most prevalent illicit drug used by teenagers and adults around the world. Nearly a third of high school students in the United States report smoking it, and most high schoolers say they have access to the drug.
To many people, smoking pot is no big deal. They cite reasons such as: “it isn’t dangerous or addictive” and “everybody is doing it.”
Denise Walker, co-director of the University of Washington’s Innovative Programs Research Group, disagrees.
“It’s not a risk-free drug,” she said. “Lots of people who use it do so without problems. But there are others who use it regularly – almost daily – and want to stop but aren’t sure how.”
Walker hopes to help these people, many of whom feel stigmatized by their drug use. She is lead author of a paper showing that a brief, voluntary conversation with an adult led to up to a 20 percent decrease in marijuana use for teenagers who frequently used the drug.
Teenagers face greater risks from regular marijuana use compared with adults, said Walker, “Adolescence is a big developmental period for learning adult roles. Smoking marijuana regularly can impede development and school performance, and it sets kids up for other risky behaviors,” she said.
Walker and her co-authors investigated how a two-session, “non-finger wagging” approach called Teen Marijuana Check-Up could encourage teens to reduce their marijuana use.
“The majority of people who need help aren’t getting it and they don’t think they need it,” Walker said. Users are ambivalent about their drug use, Walker reported, and there are aspects of using marijuana they enjoy.
“However, many teens also have concerns about their use, even if they’re not sharing them with family or friends,” she said. If a convenient and easy opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of their drug use is offered that isn’t “shaming or blaming,” kids will participate in it voluntarily, she said.
The researchers went to high school classrooms and gave short presentations describing myths and facts about marijuana, common reasons why teens smoke it and its health and behavior consequences.
The researchers told the students about the study, saying it was intended to give feedback on – not treat – each student’s marijuana use. Students could volunteer privately. Of about 7,100 students who heard about the study, 619 volunteered and 310 met its criterion of smoking marijuana regularly.