Parents of Aspen High School students: Don’t freak out — a person cannot be high for 28 days after smoking a joint or a bowl of marijuana or consuming a 5-milligram edible candy infused with THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
A panel discussion at the school Thursday evening sought to educate adults about the drug and its effects on teens. Though marijuana has been made legal in Colorado for recreational use — but only in a private setting — it can only be sold to, or consumed by, those who are 21 or older.
The event, the second in a series of local meetings on the advent of recreational pot sales in the community, was hosted by the Valley Marijuana Council, a group of local stakeholders brought together by Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo.
One audience member asked if a person can feel the “high” from smoking pot for 28 days. She was confused; marijuana can be stored in a body’s fat cells for about one month, but the typical mental and physical short-term impairment from one-time marijuana use is only going to last a few hours, panelists said.
Dr. Jonathan Birnkrant, of the Aspen Centers for Advanced Treatment, spoke of how marijuana consumption can have an effect on brain development in youths. In some cases, among users who smoke regularly, the drug robs them of life’s little pleasures.
“They are no longer interested, they no longer have joy, in the things they used to have joy in,” he said.
Birnkrant also spoke of genetic evidence that links onset of schizophrenia in adults to adolescent cannabis use.
Mike Connolly, director of the Valley Partnership for Drug Prevention, said surveys of Aspen High students indicate that marijuana use has been rising in recent years but tobacco use is down.
“We’re very happy about the tobacco part of it,” he said.
Connolly added that there is no such thing as “responsible” use of alcohol or marijuana among teens, echoing Birnkrant’s remarks about how their brains are still developing.
One member of the audience talked of how he recently smoked pot, remarking how much stronger it has become than when he would consume it 30 years ago. But Jordan Lewis, who operates Silverpeak Apothecary, a medical marijuana store on East Cooper Avenue, said there is another way of looking at it: Today, a person doesn’t have to smoke as much pot as they did in the 1970s to feel its effects.
Make no mistake, Lewis said, “This is not your parents’ marijuana anymore.”
Another listener asked if it was a good idea to show children today’s marijuana products. Some that are available in medical and recreational stores are in the form of edible candies and cookies that look similar to other treats kids might purchase on their own, such as “gummy bears.”
Lewis said an open and honest dialogue with kids is always the best approach.
“Shielding them doesn’t serve a purpose,” he said.
DiSalvo pointed out that the recreational marijuana industry isn’t going anywhere. Not only did Amendment 64, the referendum on legalization in November 2012, pass statewide by overwhelming margin, but in Pitkin County, 75 percent of those who voted on the measure supported it.
He said it is incumbent upon parents to educate their kids about pressure from peers to smoke pot as well as potential health effects and other possible dangers associated with marijuana use.
“I think it is a parental responsibility to say to children, ‘No. Forget the dosage. Forget the form. It’s not for you. If you’ve got three friends trying to use that, you should be walking in the other direction. Just (tell your friends), “Hey, I’ll see you in 10 minutes.’”
Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said he thought the discussion was productive in that it helped parents and others in the community to understand the law with regard to marijuana legalization as well as the effects of marijuana use.
“You can’t just consume marijuana in public; it’s not legal in that environment, and it has to be consumed privately,” Pryor said. “Two, as Dr. Birnkrant explained, there are effects of marijuana products on the adolescent brain. That will probably be the biggest takeaway for this crowd tonight.”