by LAURA HAYES
The first time Arianna Saykally-McAdams tried marijuana, she hated it. Growing up, Saykally-McAdams said she felt pressure to succeed and didn’t know how to deal with emotions or ask for help. She wanted to fit in with people who didn’t have the same pressure to succeed.
When she got to college, some in her social circle used marijuana. “I didn’t like the effects at all. I guess I kept on using it because it was an escape and more socially acceptable than the other self-destructive things I was doing to cope,” Saykally-McAdams said. “And I didn’t think it was addictive.”
While in college, she used on the weekends, and after graduating, she moved to the Winona area. “I didn’t know how to deal with life or ask for help again,” she said. Saykally-McAdams began smoking marijuana every night after work and on the weekends. “At some point, I realized nothing was changing in my life. I wasn’t growing as a person. If this is the one life you get, I didn’t want to waste the rest of it high. Because that’s what I was doing — wasting my life being high,” she said.
For the past 10 years, Saykally-McAdams has been sober. She shared her story as part of a community discussion on teen marijuana use led by Winona County Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP). ASAP has recently launched a marijuana campaign that includes community discussions, billboard and movie ads, and a short film created by local students. “The whole reason is to reveal the truth that most students are not using marijuana,” ASAP Program Coordinator Phil Huerta said.
According to the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey given to fifth, eighth, ninth, and 11th graders, over half of the students in the state have never used marijuana — 99 percent of fifth graders haven’t used marijuana in the last year, over 90 percent of eighth graders said they never used marijuana, 89 percent of ninth graders have never used marijuana, and 74 percent of male juniors and 75 percent of female juniors have never used marijuana. However, the data indicates students believe that more students are using marijuana than reported. In Winona County, 99.3 percent of fifth graders have not used marijuana in the past year. Half of the Winona County eighth graders believed that their peers have used marijuana, but 94 percent of students reported that they have never used marijuana. Around 90 percent of Winona County freshman have reportedly never used marijuana, but they believe that over 70 percent of their peers have used marijuana either regularly or at least once. In Winona County, 72.4 percent of juniors said they’ve never used marijuana but believe that only 12.7 percent of their peers have never used.
“There’s such a wide gap between perceived [use] and actual use,” Huerta noted. “In this campaign, we hope to show the reality that most don’t use.”
In addition to Saykally-McAdams, the panel featured local lawyers, doctors, police officers, counselors, and a United States Drug Enforcement Administration agent. Assistant Winona County Attorney Rebecca Church, who works with juvenile delinquents, said that most juveniles — if they use drugs — use marijuana. While medical marijuana is legal in Minnesota, Dr. Al Beguin said the patients who ask for medical marijuana often have substance-abuse disorders. “They want a get-out-of-jail-free card to use marijuana without legal consequences,” he said. Adolescent brains, Beguin explained, develop through the the age of 25. Marijuana, he argued, causes structural damage to the brain. “It’s not a legitimate medication. It’s a drug,” Beguin said.
Winona County Investigator Nick Walch said while he mostly deals with adults, police have seen an increase in drivers under the influence of marijuana. In the past, some drivers may have been only cited for possession of marijuana, but Walch said that more and more drivers are being processed for potential charges of driving under the influence of a controlled substance. Where do most teens acquire their marijuana? Parents and friends, Walch responded. Addiction counselor Josh Mueller argued that adults and teens use marijuana to cope, which may lead the user to seek higher concentrations of the substance or stronger drugs. Marijuana, Walch added, opens the door to the drug market and culture.
How can teens be successfully deterred from using marijuana? “I think being flat honest with teens. The reason why I didn’t try a lot of the drugs that I could have was because of honest [conversations] either from adults or from media. [They were] honest in the fact that yes, the drug can get you high and it can feel good at the time and people can think they have legitimate reasons for using, but there are so many negative and long-term consequences,” said Saykally-McAdams. “Let people know there are other options and help available and people who care about them.”
For more information about ASAP, visit http://www.winonacountyasap.org/.