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The Changing Landscape of Cannabis

by Pam Luna

Over the past several years, those of us working in schools and community organizations have seen a significant change in the attitudes and beliefs that youth have about marijuana. According to results of the most recent 2014 Monitoring the Future study:


  • Almost two-thirds (64%) of high school seniors do not view regular marijuana use as harmful compared to just over one-third (35%) 20 years ago.
  • Marijuana use has remained relatively stable among high school students over the past few years.
  • 56.7% of high school seniors say they disapprove of occasional marijuana smoking.


Although there are likely several factors impacting this shift in beliefs, recent legalization of both the medical and recreational use of marijuana in a few states and countries has prompted youth to question its potential harmful effects.  We know quite a lot about marijuana and its impacts on youth, and the decision to use it remains a serious one.  We know that marijuana is a psychoactive drug; it may lead to dependency; it can be addictive; some studies have shown it affects memory and learning - to name just a few concerns. There are even greater health risks for adolescents and young adults who use marijuana prior to full brain development (around age 25).  As always, it is our approach in Project ALERT to give youth factual and accurate information, and to support them in making decisions and taking actions that are going to keep them healthy, safe, and drug-free.


Periodically updating Project ALERT’s materials is a critical part of maintaining the program’s effectiveness and relevance. To that end, we are going through the core lessons of Project ALERT and strengthening them to include the most current information about marijuana based on new research and trusted sources.


Here are a few resources we recommend for teachers and other educators to review to gain a more complete understanding of the health impacts of marijuana:


National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Drug Abuse



Colorado Literature Review 



2014 Monitoring the Future Report



We also recommend these resources for youth:





The Project ALERT team wishes to thank Pamela J. Luna, DrPH, MST, Senior Project ALERT trainer, for her contributions to this article and for creating the e-cigarette supplement now on our website at www.projectalert.com.


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