Marijuana: What School Professionals Should Know and Do

    Educators have a significant opportunity to help protect teens’ health when experimentation or substance use, and the risk of addiction, is high.

    Schools that implement comprehensive, age-appropriate and research-based prevention programming can have a real impact on reducing youth marijuana use and its adverse effects. It’s essential to start at an early age and continue throughout a child’s academic career. Programming is especially effective if families and other caregivers take part.

    If you haven’t already reviewed our information on youth marijuana use — including reasons for use, ways it’s used and the impact of legalization — it’s a good place to start before diving into your specific role as an educator.

    Focus on health, not punishment

    Communicate to students the school’s drug-related policies and the consequences of violating these policies. Marijuana use is illegal for all youth, regardless of its legal status in a given state.

    While it is within your rights to discipline students who break the law, it is important to address youth substance use as a health rather than a behavior or disciplinary issue. First, try talking with the student. Aim to understand their motivation for using marijuana. Instead of rushing to punitive measures, a health-driven approach may be more effective in eliminating risky behaviors and helping them turn to healthy alternatives.

    Use strategies based in science, not fear

    By using evidence-based practices, schools can support the development of life skills that decrease risk and help delay the onset of substance use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse details essential principles of prevention for youth. These include, but are not limited to:

    • Enhancing protective factors
    • Offering family-based programming
    • Intervening early at the sign of risk
    • Enhancing social-emotional learning

    Know and share the facts

    Aim to be an informed and reliable source of information about marijuana and other substances. As a result, students may turn to you instead of less credible sources like peers, social media, popular culture or advertisements.

    Peer-to-peer intervention

    Young people often respond better to their peers than from teachers or other adults. In other words, peer-to-peer intervention works. It can help successfully sway youth attitudes about marijuana use and promote protective strategies among students. You can teach these strategies through role-playing and other activities.

    Engage family and the community

    Schools often are at the center of their community and an essential resource for families. Your ability to collaborate with families and other community systems can create a unique environment that promotes and reinforces healthy adolescent behavior. Substance use prevention programming and other educational resources can and should reach the entire school community. The result is an informed base of parents and a safe body of students. Therefore, whenever possible, information shared with students about marijuana use should also be provided to families and caregivers.

    Work with community organizations to provide fun and substance-free activities for students. These adult-supervised events allow students to socialize, have fun and take healthy risks without marijuana and other substances.

    Educating students about marijuana use and bolstering skills to resist it are essential components of effective prevention. However, what happens in their home and community plays a major role in a student’s risk for marijuana use and in getting needed help should they develop a problem.

    Use data to inform programming

    Data can help inform your activities and policies around intervention. Collect data on the types of addictive substances students use and track trends in use. You can then address emerging trends and adjust policies and practices to best meet student needs.

    download

    Marijuana Talk Kit for Parents and Caregivers

    A valuable resource to share with parents, our talk kit includes guidance on how to talk with one’s child about marijuana in a productive and non-confrontational way.

    Download now

    Help students who show signs of use

    Through screening of all students, and especially those at risk, identify those in need of help. If they need services and counseling beyond those available within the school, be ready with referrals to quality professional counseling and treatment within the community. School professionals can serve as a source of positive reinforcement and support for students in need of help or treatment for substance-related problems.

    Know the signs of student marijuana use

    It is important to identify students who use marijuana or may experience marijuana-related problems, regardless of when and where it happens. Schools can help guide them toward the help they need. Some of the more common signs include:

    • Changes in mood (irritability, paranoia, indifference)
    • Bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, slow movement or walking
    • Loss of interest in academics, extracurricular activities, hobbies, sports
    • Lack of focus, poor class attendance, low grades, conduct problems
    • Disregard for school rules
    • Failure to fulfill responsibilities at school

    A note on testing

    Many schools drug test. When teachers or staff suspect a student is under the influence of marijuana or has it in their possession, they might search the student’s locker or perform a drug test. If the search or test results are postive, they are disciplined. Because marijuana use is a health issue in addition to a legal concern, harsh punishment in response to substance use should be avoided. These only address the student’s outward behavior and not their attitude toward marijuana or their reasons for use, which are the root issues that need to be considered.

    Additionally, it can be easy for students to fake the results of drug tests and dodge locker searches. This wastes time and resources that could better be used to provide them with health-based interventions. Students’ mental and physical health and safety should be protected and respected. Interventions should aim to educate and help - not scold or shame - students engaged in substance use.

    For students suspected of marijuana use, establish specific protocols for involving the student’s family. First, make reliable local referrals to students and their families for professional assistance. Second, reconsider suspension and punishment to ensure students understand the consequences of their substance use on their health, well-being, education and family. Above all, students should feel comfortable coming forward to seek help from trusted adults.

    We’re here to help

    We offer schools and youth-serving organizations the tools and guidance to help families in your community prevent and address substance use.

    Learn more

    Additional resources

    There are numerous resources available for school professionals to help prevent their students from using marijuana or other substances, and assist those students who need help.

    Cannabis awareness and prevention toolkit

    A curriculum for students by Stanford Medicine

    Visit Stanford Medicine
    Vaping: A Guide for School Professionals

    Our guide on what school professionals need to know to help protect children, teens and young adults.

    Download PDF
    Alcohol: What School Professionals Need to Know to Help Protect Young People

    Our guide to helping prevent and address underage drinking.

    Download PDF
    Youth Prevention Education Resource Guide

    Find tools and resources from Prevention First, a nonprofit resource center committed to building and supporting healthy, drug-free communities.

    Visit prevention.org
    Classroom Resources from the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens

    Lessons, activities and information to help schools educate students about the consequences of substance use

    Visit NIDA for Teens
    SAMHSA Materials for Schools

    Help educate parents about substance use, and resources associated with its “Talk. They Hear You” campaign

    Visit SAMHSA
    Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine Resources

    Online substance use prevention resources aimed specifically at adolescents and young adults

    Visit SAHM

    Published

    April 2021