Colorado Schools Grapple With Best Way to Discuss Health Consequences of Marijuana

Schools in Colorado are grappling with how to educate students about the health consequences of marijuana, now that recreational use of the drug is legal for adults. The state Department of Education has not changed its statewide health curriculum guidelines since voters legalized marijuana, NPR reports.

Colorado middle schools reported a 24 percent increase in drug-related incidents last year. School-based experts say they believe the jump is directly related to marijuana legalization. Recreational sales of marijuana began on January 1, 2014.

Schools do not report which kinds of drugs are involved in the incidents. State legislators are now asking school districts to keep track of which drugs they are finding.

Odette Edbrooke, health education coordinator for the Boulder Valley School District, says the phrase “recreational marijuana” sends students a message that the drug is “fun, and it’s something you do in your spare time.” She adds, “When it’s legal for your parents to smoke it or grow it, that changes the conversation.” The Boulder Valley School District is bringing in a neuroscientist to talk to health classes about marijuana’s impact on brain development.

The Colorado Department of Public Health is developing a science-based marijuana education program with a more holistic approach, according to Mike Van Dyke, section chief for environmental epidemiology and toxicology. “Marijuana is unique, because … this is a substance where you have a large community of people that really claim that it has a lot of health benefits,” he said. “You don’t see that with tobacco.”

The state has awarded grants, funded by marijuana tax revenue, which will help school districts hire nurses, psychologists, counselors and social workers to address issues raised by marijuana legalization.