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Dec. 5, 2019
Parents, staff and community members gathered at Geneva High School Nov. 21 to attend an event focused on teen use of marijuana and vaping.
The presenter, Matthew Quinn, LCPC, CADC, is a certified drug and alcohol counselor with more than 15 years’ experience working with teens, young adults and their families. His presentation “Legal Marijuana: Now What?” highlighted upcoming changes in Illinois legislation, trends in teen vaping, and parenting strategies.
“We are fighting an uphill battle in trying to keep our youth healthy,” Geneva High School Principal Tom Rogers said in his introduction, explaining that for the last three years the school has hosted community programs related to helping students lead healthy lives.
“We want to continue the conversation about this very important topic,” he said. “Tonight is also focused on what can we do to keep our youth healthy.”
Quinn works in private practice, and at Rosecrance Health Network. He spent 8 years leading a teen substance abuse program at Elmhurst/Edward Hospital, and has spoken to GHS staff about teen vaping and drug use.
“My passion is working with these kids,” he said. “I love doing these presentations because I feel there are bits and pieces to this that are not getting disseminated to parents and to young people. I think it’s really important to get this information out there.”
Legal Marijuana and Vaping
Quinn kicked off his presentation explaining the new Illinois legislation that, beginning January 2020, recreational marijuana will be legal for adults 21 and older. These changes in the law make it an important time for parents to think about the health effects of teen marijuana use and vaping, Quinn said.
He estimated that about 75% of the teens he has worked with had drug issues that revolved around marijuana. He also cited an increasing trend in teen vaping.
“It should be pretty obvious why we are going to talk about vaping,” Quinn said. “In 2016, 1 in 9 teens were engaging with vaping. Last year, that number jumped to between 1 in 3 and 1 in 4. These are historic changes, and that’s why we need to talk about it.”
Parents first need to be educated on the history and evolution of marijuana and vaping if they are going to talk to their kids about making healthy decisions, Quinn said. He showed a slide of the marijuana plant, and then flipped to a slide of gummy bear candies, wax, and other forms of marijuana such as “dabs.”
“This is the world of marijuana today. I’ve worked with teens who use marijuana every day that have never even seen the plant.”
Quinn expressed concern about the many vaping products that target the younger generation. He showed images of e-liquid product designs including popular cartoon characters, and flavors imitating popular snack brands like vanilla wafers and sour candies.
“They’re not concerned with youth health.”
Teen Perceptions and Health
Quinn has observed the perception by teens that, with the new legislation in Illinois, there is little harm in marijuana use or vaping.
He cited a study in which 1 out of 4 U.S. high school seniors said they would try marijuana or use it more often if it was legal.
“This is about in the lane of what I’ve seen,” he said, adding that 9 out of 10 people with substance problems started using by age 18.
Making healthy decisions during this time is crucial, Quinn said, because key parts of the brain continue rapid development to mid-20s.
If your teen says, ‘it’s just a plant,’ it’s important to remember that cocaine and heroin are both derived from plants, as are some of the world’s deadliest poisons (ricin, hemlock and oleander),” he said.
Potencies of marijuana products have increased over the decades, Quinn cautioned. Higher doses of THC can impair decision-making, problem-solving, balance and coordination, and lead to problems in learning and memory, he said. He discussed the functional impact of teen marijuana use that he has seen, including poor academic performance, higher school dropout rates, higher unemployment rates, and lower satisfaction with life.
“Come January, edibles are going to be part of what is sold to adults 21 and older. I’m just as worried about edibles as anything else, and here’s why.”
Quinn explained that there is a delayed effect from edibles, making it difficult to predict the dosage someone is consuming, which can be dangerous for a young person.
He cited a 27% increase in children and teenagers receiving emergency treatment for marijuana toxicity nationwide, and 70% of those cases occurred in states with legalized marijuana.
The CDC’s statistics around vaping are just as grim, according to Quinn. He cited 42 vaping-related deaths and more than 2,000 diagnosed with breathing-related illnesses, and the numbers increase weekly.
Quinn told the story of Chance, an 18-year-old teen who this year shared images of his collapsed lung on social media, urging others to stop vaping. Quinn believes that this type of peer-to-peer communication is effective in getting teens to follow healthier lifestyle choices. “His message can be very powerful.”
Now What? Tips for Parents
After discussing the history and health effects of marijuana and vaping, Quinn shifted gears to help provide strategies for adults to use when talking to youth.
Quinn said that ideally, children are more likely to make healthy choices for themselves if parents help them build some of these internal tools:
- Social skills
- Resilience (citing the 7 Cs developed by Dr. Ken Ginsburg)
Parents also need to set the expectation of non-use. Quinn explained that if a child sees their parents using drugs or alcohol to regulate their mood or to cope, they will learn that behavior is OK.
“Kids who learn about the risks of drugs or alcohol from their parents are 50% less likely to use drugs or alcohol than those who do not.” He also cited a statistic that two-thirds of teens say losing their parents’ respect and pride is one of the main reasons they choose not to drink or use drugs.
Quinn cautioned parents not to bombard their children the information learned at the presentation all at once. He emphasized that if parents take one thing away from the presentation, it is “education bites.” He emphasized the importance of listening and provided tips on how to get teens to open up during a conversation — encouraging parents to listen 75% and talk only 25%. When children talk to you about a problem, validate their feelings first, Quinn said. Don’t just lecture or problem-solve right away.
“Kids are more likely to listen to you if they feel understood,” he said. “There are opportunities for education. But keep it bite-sized. Try to draw them out and say, ‘I went to this presentation on vaping. What are you seeing? What do you think of this?’ ”
When these strategies fail, parents should not be afraid to be “the heavy,” Quinn said. “Education only goes so far.” Don’t be afraid to search their room, their phones, or buy drug tests, such a [email protected]
Families should seek help if discussion or consequences don’t work, he said, such as through their school counseling office or through Rosecrance.
Quinn also answered questions after the presentation and shared his contact information. He can be reached at [email protected]
The following documents include Quinn's handouts from the event. To learn more about Quinn's sources, please watch the video below.
Vaping 2019 Fact Sheet:
Rosecrance Chicagoland Locations:
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