Marijuana Use Spills Into NYC Classrooms as Educators Grapple With New Cannabis Landscape

The Manhattan 16-year-old began smoking cannabis to get over a bad breakup. He was using marijuana to deal with mental health issues, like depression, which made it difficult to go to class. Between classes, he started to get high. The teen said that it went to a weed pen after initially being edibles. People know where the blind spots are in the cameras.

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The legal marijuana landscape and market for the drug have shifted rapidly, making it easier for young people to get more potent cannabis products they can use discreetly before or during school.

The youth mental health crisis may be pushing more children to use marijuana.

The City could not be made possible without the help of members and sponsors.

Some New York City school staffers say they are seeing an increase in student drug use that is spilling into the school day. Over the past decade and a half, the number of dedicated substance abuse counselors in city schools has been slashed.

According to Anna Nelson, an assistant principal at Bronx Latin, there has been an increase in the number of kids using marijuana. We used to have a problem with our high school kids, but now we have kids coming to school as young as middle school.

Cannabis can be educational for kids and adults

Nelson said there are a lot of kids who don't know how to deal with the Pandemic. It is similar to self-medication.

The education department numbers obtained by Chalkbeat seem to back up what teachers are saying. Even though the K-12 student population has fallen, the number of reports of controlled substances and drug paraphernalia found on students at school has risen. The increases were even greater in middle school.

The reports only show part of the problem.

There is a limited window into the problem. Drug experts say that some schools may be responding to the increase in student cannabis use without resorting to harsher measures.

A small high school in Manhattan assigns students who get high during the school day to attend peer-led circles to learn from their mistakes. Three sessions with a staffer with a background in substance abuse counseling is being mandated by another. Students caught with e-liquid in school will be suspended, while parents are given information about substance use.

Paint Puff "N" peace is located in East Harlem. Many schools don't have the resources or training to give students more intensive support Annie Annunziato is an assistant principal at the Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women in Downtown Brooklyn. We have so many kids who are in need right now, socially and emotionally already, and so many kids who are engaging in drug use that the amount of resources and personnel it would take to make shifts is a lot larger than what schools have.

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Substance abuse counselors are deployed to educate students about marijuana and alcohol while identifying and supporting kids with substance use disorders, according to the education department.

Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Specialists work in schools to provide prevention and intervention services.

The number of substance abuse counselors employed by the education department across the city's 1,600 public schools has been cut in half from 500 in 2006 to roughly 280 last year according to the New York's Office of Addiction Services and supports. The elimination of a federal grant was the reason for the reduction.

There is a marijuana landscape.

In New York City, the cannabis landscape has changed since the drug was legalized.

The law, enacted to end the decades-long law enforcement response to marijuana that disproportionately targeted Black and Latino New Yorkers, just now offers the first licenses for legal, adult-use dispensaries, with first priority for vendors impacted by the war on drugs. The state's first legal marijuana dispensary is located in the city.

A vendor is selling candy made from cannabis.

There are a lot of unlicensed vendors in the city. Students said it's not hard to get marijuana.

The City could not be made possible without the help of members and sponsors. A 16-year-old sophomore in Downtown Brooklyn said that access has become easier. You can get weed if you go down the street to get pizza. Some research shows that states that legalized marijuana saw their youth rates go up.

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A staffer at a Queens youth residential drug treatment center, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that 19 out of 20 new referrals are for cannabis addiction, a big change from 15 years ago when most patients came through the criminal justice system.

The drug treatment staffer is worried that legalization has sent the wrong message.

The staffer said that the biggest change he has seen in the last year is kids saying they can get high. It seems like it has replaced nicotine.

The age at which kids start using the drug is not the only factor that has changed.

One veteran middle school principal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said in a decades-long career that's spanned "all different kinds of schools and communities, maybe once a year there's a kid who we maybe sort of suspect."

It can be difficult to pin down up-to-date information on youth cannabis use. New York City's most recent health department survey data only shows a slight increase over the previous decade, but remains lower than national averages.

A national survey of 50,000 middle and high school students conducted earlier this year found that youth marijuana use dipped during the pandemic and began to bounce back last year.

 It was much lower than it was before the Pandemic. The Monitoring the Future study at the University of Michigan found that marijuana and nicotine use had gone up since tracking began in 2017, but hadn't returned to pre-pandemic levels.

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According to a recent analysis of national poison control data, the number of young kids accidentally eating cannabis is increasing.

According to the deputy director of New York's Office of Cannabis Management, part of the goal of legalization is to regulate the market and root out vendors who are more likely to sell to children. She said that there was no controls to make sure that cannabis products stayed away from young people.

There is more intoxicating marijuana.

Marijuana now often has higher levels of THC than it did a long time ago.

It isn't cannabis anymore. The director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital said that it wasn't the same drug. Kids used to get 2% to 4% of the drug.
Experts say that the higher potency brings with it a host of added problems, including the risk of vomiting and psychosis that can send kids to the emergency room.

Cannabis is now widely available in packages that are easier for students to use discreetly on campus and harder for adults to catch, which is the most significant change for schools. 

Students can take just a few puffs of the concentrate in a pen in the bathroom or take a gummy in class.

Some schools are trying to keep up by installing monitors that can detect drug use in the bathroom.
Other educators don't think that it's a good idea to watch student drug use during school hours.

"Now, with the availability of gummies and edibles, it's really, really, really hard to manage." I can't ethically or morally go to a teen and say, "Hey I saw you eating a gummy, and I assume that the candy had marijuana in it"
The role of mental health is central.

Substance use and the teen mental health crisis are related, according to addiction and mental health experts.

The symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder spiked during the Pandemic and many teens are open about using weed to dull them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 75% of teens across the country experienced at least one traumatic event during the Pandemic.

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A 16-year-old junior at a public high school in Downtown Brooklyn, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that people had a lot of time on their hands being home and not having the time to process the emotions of going back to school. 

She said it was easier for a teenager to use marijuana than it was to deal with it.

The data shows that teens with mental health issues are more likely to start using drugs.

When he was a teenager, the Manhattan 16-year-old said he found it easier to attend class.

I wouldn't walk around aimlessly in the halls and focus more in class. He said he'd be in class more.

Experts say that while cannabis can bring temporary relief, it can also cause long term problems like depression and anxiety.

A store in New York.

People wrongly think intoxication reduces anxiety. The more you use, the worse your anxiety becomes.

Drug use as a teen is an indication of problematic drug use or addiction. Teenagers with their brains still developing and who can't learn in the same way while under the influence are at greater risk.

Sometimes the greater worry for school staffers is what else might be going on in the lives of students who get high during the school day. When he sees a student use something, he thinks, "I'm worried about you." What is causing you to feel like you have to do that at 9:45 a.m?

Schools scramble to respond but don't have enough resources. 

Many schools are trying to follow in the footsteps of New York City and the rest of the country, which has moved away from a law enforcement-based response to marijuana.

It wasn't uncommon for police to get involved when students were found with marijuana in schools, but now, school staffers are more likely to respond on their own. Possessing or using a controlled substance at school is a level four infraction that can lead to suspension but also supportive services like referrals to substance abuse counseling. It is a serious offense to sell drugs on school property. School staff are supposed to send a student to the nurse if they suspect a student is drunk. A number of administrators said they had to call the ambulance for students who were drunk.

Nelson said that they had to call the emergency services. They are taking stuff that they don't know what they're taking.

It's important to attach consequences to student marijuana use in school in order to send a message that it's against community standards and makes the environment less safe for other students.

Many schools are trying to find alternatives to exclusionary discipline.

A high school student in Manhattan was caught smoking. He said that the school assigned him several sessions with a counselor.

The teen said that he smoked during the school day even though he was caught. He suggested that officials who catch students using should not be obnoxious about it and talk to a student first.
A drug treatment approach that focuses on reducing the harm caused by drug use rather than extinguishing it is sometimes the best way to counsel students who use cannabis.

It could mean setting up a schedule with a student and blocking out certain times of the day they aren't going to smoke.

School staff can refer students to outpatient or residential drug treatment facilities for the most serious cases.

The program run by Mt. is one of the promising initiatives underway. Substance abuse counseling and mental health support can be found in several city public schools.

ReStart Academy is an alternative school run by the education department that serves students with substance use issues.

A handbook to help school staff understand the phenomenon of students self-medicating with drugs is being worked on.

More resources and training are needed to effectively deal with student substance use issues, which aren't likely to abate on their own.

Cannabis has done that, and we need to rethink education. Unless we have a new reality, it will only get worse.

Keywords: school, Manhattan high school, students, York City