420 Day – A Ritual To Explore

April 19, 2010 at 5:48 am 5 comments

If you’ve attended one of our trainings, you’ve heard us ask, “Where do teens find ritual?”

420 is one answer.

420 is April 20, a self-selected holiday for marijuana users.  The phrase was coined by some students at San Rafael High School in my own county – Marin County, CA, – in 1971 during my freshman year.  It’s a ritual now, to say the least.  Every year at 4:20pm on April 20, people light up together on or near school and college campuses and other gathering places for a group smoke. Every school counselor is prepared to receive numerous referrals following April 20, and urine tests for kids on probation tend to be scheduled more heavily in the days following. The Huffington Post told the story of 420’s origins in more depth last year at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/20/what-420-means-the-true-s_n_188320.html

Although it was common and accessible for many teens and young adults when I was in high school in the 70’s, marijuana use today is common across generations and nearly 42% of male students and 35% of female students nationally report having used it. http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/yrbss/

As a Girls Circle facilitator and as a therapist, I have had hundreds of conversations with teens and families about weed. I am both fascinated and disquieted by its use. I’ve seen:

  • marriages devastated because of it
  • friends undergoing chemotherapy relieved by it
  • relatives who experimented with it then move on to more dangerous drugs and addictions
  • teens self-medicate with it for undiagnosed conditions, and
  • parents continue to smoke it on the down low

A major commodity with a large economy and a great deal of power to impact teens’ health and development, marijuana is a drug with a very confusing status.  While teens continue to be arrested for possession or selling weed, and some teens are struggling to find motivation and developing an addiction, a first ever cannabis and hemp trade show was held Sunday at the Cow Palace near San Francisco, http://www.sfgate.com/cgibin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/04/18/BA2A1D0OB2.DTL.

The show emphasized medical marijuana use and included information and support for a California ballot initiative in November to legalize marijuana, potentially opening a new source of entrepreneurship and revenue stream for California’s damaged economy.

It may be only a matter of time before it shows up in commercials, along with beer and the pharmaceuticals. It’s the most heavily used illicit drug. 1 in 12 kids will develop an addiction to it, and frequent or heavy use of pot can result in mental illness or in an exacerbation of a pre-existing mental illness. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091219073005.htm

So what do kids think about it? It varies, but most of what I hear is “it’s no big deal,” “it’s natural,” “organic,” and not dangerous or addictive. Many say they smoke throughout high school and still get good grades, yet studies show that marijuana interferes with short term memory processing, motivation, and even hormones. One junior girl last week told me that if she does NOT smoke, she cannot focus on her studies because her mind races and she has a jumpy feeling; the smoking calms her and helps her focus, but at the same time, she doesn’t like the food cravings she gets.  Maybe she’s suffering from ADHD or another undiagnosed condition, or maybe past traumas are causing her stress levels to run on overdrive, interfering with her learning and driving her toward smoking. Hopefully a good medical evaluation can help assess her needs, but it’s complicated, and confusing.

What are the risks, what are the consequences, what are the benefits and for whom, and how do we as Girls Circle or The Council facilitators support teens in their understanding and safe decision making about marijuana?  These are good questions for your group.

Stay open, stay informed, practice nonjudgment, be prepared to listen actively to your group members, and offer neutral, fact-based information if and when myth busting is needed. Many teens feel attached to their use, or attached to the concept that it’s not dangerous, and just a myth that grownups perpetuate.  Try to write out a set of open ended questions in the motivational interviewing style to engage the group in some examination and critical thinking about it, and let them be their own experts while you can provide a little science and prepared questions.  Here are a few suggested questions for starters:

What do people think these days about smoking weed?

How is it used by your classmates (or…friends, family members, etc.)?

What are your experiences with it?

What benefits does it offer?  How?

What are the downsides to getting high?

How does it fit into your life, i.e. where/when/with whom is it shared?

How does it fit in – or not fit in- with your relationships?

Has anyone here ever thought about reasons they don’t want to use? What are some reasons people decide to stop using?

If you use (d), what would be your top reason to stop?

Keep in mind that refusal skills are worth developing with kids.  They sometimes need to have practiced some skits with scenarios and planned how to confidently pass on an invitation from their friends or even family members.

When treatment is indicated, SAMSHA has an evidence-based treatment program CYT, Cannabis Youth Treatment Series – a motivational enhancement and cognitive behavioral treatment program that combines individual and group therapy for marijuana users, http://ncadi.samhsa.gov/govpubs/bkd384/ and a community reinforcement approach, http://ncadistore.samhsa.gov/catalog/ProductDetails.aspx?ProductID=15871available at no cost for download.

Parents who don’t want their kids to use pot can be reassured that they can have a very real positive impact by monitoring their kids activities. Studies show that when parents ask their teens where they are going, who they are going with, what they are doing, and when they’ll be back, adolescents self-report using less. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091116143623.htm

Teens make decisions about marijuana every day. Like so many other options in their environment, it offers potential for culture, identity, pleasure, a coping tool, experimentation, dependency, disconnection, comfort, school or legal problems, and certainly, ritual. If teens find belonging and relief from stress in the relationships they build in your circles and councils, maybe the void that drives so many of them to use drugs can be filled in a more healthy way. It’s worth a try.



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Let’s Bust the Myth of Mean Girls Promoting Girls’ and Boys’ Mental Health

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. writerpro25  |  August 8, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    I think almost any substance can be abused and that it’s ridiculous that marijuana is illegal when it is much less dangerous when it is abused than when alcohol is. http://stonerdiary.wordpress.com

  • 2. bethgc  |  May 4, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Melissa, we have all read your comments and you are really walking the talk. Sitting there being patient with listening and not judging is hard to do. But practicing that shows the girls that you are sincerely interested in them and accepting them and respecting them. When that is conveyed through your actions and intention, they feel free to explore further and make genuine reflections on the downsides of using. Great work, thank you for your encouragement.

  • 3. Christopher Rogers  |  April 20, 2010 at 6:28 am

    Excellent article examining many facets of this complex topic.

    • 4. bethgc  |  May 4, 2010 at 6:43 pm

      Thanks, Chris! Coming from a writer like you, I appreciate your opinion! 🙂

  • 5. Melissa Peterson  |  April 20, 2010 at 5:46 am

    Hi Beth,

    First off, you, Giovanna and your organization are amazing, and I am so happy to be connected to Girls Circle! I run the Anderson Teen Center in Shasta County, and we have been doing Girls Circles (and more recently Boys Councils) for a few years now.

    Marijuana is definitely a hot topic for our teens, and has definitely risen in popularity. It’s frightening “cool” to many. Although sometimes hard when we care so much about them, I too have found that listening, asking the right questions and providing facts and information when appropriate without judgment is the best approach. I have used all of your open ended questions listed, sometimes worded differently, but the same idea.

    In my experience many teens are cautious to start talking about their personal experiences openly at first. They expect judgment, lectures or the usual adult fear or discomfort. When we provide them with that right environment free of judgment but full of care, I have noticed that the flood gates open.

    There were times when I worried that the talk in the circles was almost glorifying the use of marijuana, but I stuck with actively listening and asking open questions, getting them to really THINK about it. This was what was on their minds, this was what they needed to talk about, so I better listen and in the process hope it helped them think more critically about it than they had before. This approach does work. When by the end of the cycle girls are encouraging and supporting each other in their efforts to stop their drug use, and feeling comfortable talking about it, I know it works. My favorite part is talking about incorporating healthier coping mechanisms into their lives. It’s a gift, really; not just stopping when they acknowledge that using marijuana might not be the healthiest way to deal with stress/anxiety/etc, but giving them the tools to make the change, or at least try. (When appropriate, I’ve found it is nice to have a mental health professional or two you can refer youth or their families to in situations that need more attention).

    My advice to others is to not be afraid when youth start talking about using marijuana, even if it seems like they don’t think it’s a big deal, that it’s perfectly fine and healthy and in no way harmful. Use the techniques Beth mentioned above, and you are helping them, and you are allowing them to REALLY think about what they are doing and how it affects them and their futures.

    I will definitely share this blog posting with some of my community partners. Thank you!

    -Melissa Peterson


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