With the legalization of cannabis in Vermont for those 21 and older, it is more important now than ever to safeguard our youth for their health and well-being. Youth are resilient and vulnerable, especially when it comes to the effects cannabis has on the developing brain.

Many people use the terms cannabis and marijuana as if they are the same, but there is a difference. According to the National Institute of Health, cannabis encompasses everything you get from the plant “cannabis sativa” and marijuana refers to a specific component of the plant that contains THC, which causes the change in the user’s mental state.

Like many other substances, use of marijuana by youth can affect their developing brain in several ways. Research shows the brain is not considered to be fully developed until a person is in their mid-20s. Early marijuana use can cause issues with memory, the ability to learn and problem solve, and also alter one’s mood and perception. Additionally, marijuana use can increase the risk for anxiety and depression among other mental health issues.

What do the marijuana use numbers look like for Rutland County? The 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) shows 44% of youth in Grades 9-12 report they have used marijuana in their lifetime, compared to 40% statewide.

Additionally, during the 30 days prior to the 2019 survey, respondents reporting use of marijuana within this same group (grades 9-12) are at 27% for Rutland County and the state of Vermont, whereas nationally it is at 22%. What does this mean? This means the Vermont and Rutland County numbers are higher than the national average. The time to act is now with prevention efforts to address this trend.

May 9-15 is National Prevention Week. The focus of this initiative is to prevent youth and young adults from using and misusing substances such as alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. As a community, we have a responsibility to our youth to embrace those conversations, however uncomfortable they may be, and to relay our expectations. We need to have these difficult conversations and clarify and discuss the consequences that exist with using and misusing these substances.

Take the time during National Prevention Week to explore some of the terrific resources available to support the conversations necessary to help the youth of our community. You can find plenty of material online at the following organizations: Parent Up VT, the VT Help Link, the NIDA, CDC and Partners for Prevention.

This information is brought to you by the Partners for Prevention. Follow our Facebook page facebook.com/partnersforprevention to join prevention efforts.

This week’s Health Talk is written by Kaitlyn Gawet, LMSW, Regional Prevention Partnership Coordinator at Rutland Regional Medical Center.

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