Two weeks ago, as part of National Drug Facts Week, a roomful of experts from NIDA and other government health institutes sat at rows of computers for 10 hours straight and answered questions about drugs and related topics sent by middle and high school students at 70 schools around the country. With the help of coffee, pizza, and … more coffee (scientists’ drug of choice), we managed to answer more than 2,500 questions by the time 6 p.m. rolled around.
Today, the transcript of the whole chat has been posted on the Chat Day website.
Chat Day is the main opportunity most of us at NIDA have to communicate directly with young people, and it is always my favorite day of the year at my job. The questions students send are always fun, sometimes funny, and often challenging. Below are a few themes that seemed to be on teens’ minds a lot.
Marijuana, Marijuana, Marijuana
Every year, marijuana is the most popular topic at Chat Day, and this year was no exception. Lots of students asked about marijuana’s legal status. That’s rapidly changing in our country as more people debate its harms and its potential medical benefits. Four states have legalized it for adult recreational use, and 23 have legalized “medical marijuana.”
Lots of current high schoolers will be old enough to vote on these questions when and if they hit the ballots in their states, so it is great that so many teens also wanted to know the science side of it—questions like: Is it possible to get addicted to marijuana? (Answer: Yes—1 in 6 teens who use marijuana could become addicted.) Is it possible to overdose? (Answer: Yes, marijuana overdoses are becoming more common with rising potency and use of highly concentrated extracts; overdoses usually aren’t fatal, just really, really unpleasant.) And, do people ever die after taking it? (Answer: Occasionally, yes—by getting behind the wheel of a car or doing other dangerous things while high.)
I also got a lot of questions this year about peer pressure to use drugs. These questions took me back to my own high school days, when there were so many temptations to go along with the risky stuff a few of the other, “cooler” kids always seemed to be doing. As tough as it was, I’m glad I had the inner strength to make my own choices, however “uncool.”
As I wrote in my replies to students on Chat Day, you might feel like a party pooper saying “no thanks” to certain experiences, but people will respect you more, in the end, if you stick by your personal values and don’t just follow what other people are doing.
When it comes to drugs, peer pressure is often based on insecurity—deep down, people who use drugs know it’s not such a great idea, and they want to feel better about what they’re doing by getting you to join them. Don’t forget, though, that in those situations, you too have the power of peer pressure.
Knowledge Is Power
A few students also wondered why NIDA scientists, who are assumed to be against kids using drugs, want students to know so much about the topic. Won’t it just make teens want to use them more?
One of my mottos in life is a line from Star Trek: “Know all that is knowable.” The more you know—about anything—the better decisions you can make. Lots of young people take wrong turns, with lifelong consequences, because they simply don’t know better. It happened to a few of my friends.
If learning on Chat Day about a drug you’ve never heard of or learning new facts about drugs you have thought about using empowers you to make your own, informed choice when you later are offered drugs at a party or concert, then that’s a good thing, in my book.
Tell us in comments: Did your school participate in Chat Day or other National Drug Facts Week activities? What did you think? And for bonus points, what Star Trek series or movie does the line “know all that is knowable” come from? (No fair googling!)