Tempered talks reduce teen pot use

U. WASHINGTON (US) — A non-finger wagging conversation between teenagers and adults can reduce marijuana use by as much as 20 percent.

Marijuana is the most prevalent illicit drug used by teenagers and adults with nearly a third of high school students in the US reporting smoking it. Most high schoolers say they know how to get the drug if they want it.

“Marijuana is not a risk-free drug,” says Denise Walker, research assistant professor of social work at the University of Washington. “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.”

Teenagers face greater risks from regular marijuana use compared with adults, Walker says. “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,”

Walker and colleagues developed the Teen Marijuana Check-Up to encourage adolescents to reduce marijuana use. Results of the study are published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

“The majority of people who need help aren’t getting it and they don’t think they need it,” Walker says. Users are often ambivalent about their drug use, 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 says. 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.

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.

Students were told about the voluntary study, saying it was intended to give feedback on, but not treat, individual student’s marijuana use. Of about 7,100 students who heard about the study, 619 volunteered, and 310 met its criterion of smoking marijuana regularly.

The participants, ninth through 12th graders attending Seattle public schools, had two one-on-one meetings with health educators. During the meetings, which lasted 30-60 minutes each over two weeks, the health educators used one of two approaches:

  • Motivational interviewing, in which the health educator and student discussed the student’s marijuana use and how it might be interfering with the student’s life, goals and personal values, and the health educator discussed social norms of how much others use the drug.
  • An educational approach in which a PowerPoint presentation described current marijuana research and health and psychological effects of marijuana use.

Participants in the motivational interviewing group started the study using marijuana 40 out of the previous 60 days. Three months after counseling they had decreased their use 20 percent, to 32 out of 60 days. After a year they still showed a 15 percent decrease, 34 days out of 60.

Participants in the educational treatment group had slower results, reporting an 8 percent decrease from 38 to 35 days out of 60 days three months after the treatment ended. A year later, they reported using marijuana 34 of 60 days, an 11 percent overall drop.

Walker says the findings are “encouraging in that apparently meaningful reductions in cannabis use resulting from the brief meetings were sustained over a relatively lengthy period of time.”

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