Utah teens warn of recreational marijuana use dangers

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SALT LAKE CITY — Dozens of Utah high school students and advocates traveled to the state Capitol on Thursday to plead with their peers not to use recreational marijuana.

Celeste Perrins, 15, said she's seen drug use and smoking affect her friends at school.

"And it's really important for me because I have a good, safe home environment, I want to be able to spread that and make sure people have that same environment as I do to grow up good, let their brain develop fully and be able to do good when they're older," Celeste told KSL.com after speaking in front of the group.

She said she's seen firsthand the effects substance use can have on people her age.

"It definitely affects me personally because I knew them before. To see them change is really scary, and I was a little worried that it would start spreading and it would become more common," she added.

The event at the Capitol marked the launch of a new campaign called Gray Matters, which will offer resources for parents to talk to their kids about marijuana and its effects on developing brains.

According to national studies, teens who engage in heavy marijuana use tend to show disadvantages in brain development and cognitive performance.

Tim Pickett, founder and CEO of Utah Therapeutic Health Center and UtahMarijuana.org, said he treats patients — both adults and children — with medical cannabis.

"For me, it's important for people to have good information, because cannabis is a strong medication, and it's still federally illegal. So I think that we need the best science-backed information we can give," he said.

Pickett works in the emergency department part-time, and he said those departments, in general, mark an increase of children visiting emergency rooms for misusing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the psychoactive element in cannabis — in states where marijuana is legal.

"So while we haven't seen that rise here in Utah yet, we anticipate that there will be a little bit more use in kids because there's more access," he said.

Kiersten Johansen, 17, part of the Washington County Youth Coalition, said the issue interests the group and her, personally.

Last year, she said she saw drug use in the bathrooms, "which seems to be the most common place for high school students to use any kind of substance — in the bathroom," and even discreetly in classrooms.

"And we're just trying to prevent that," Johansen said. "Because it's becoming more popular, it's almost like it's a cool thing, and it shouldn't be a cool thing. We want our generation now to see that it's not cool, so we can prepare future generations for success."

Utah voters approved a ballot initiative in November 2018 legalizing doctor-approved marijuana treatment for certain health conditions. The next month, state lawmakers replaced the measure with a law they say puts tighter controls on the production, distribution and use of the drug.

Utah's Medical Cannabis Act launched in 2020, allowing people to purchase medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

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Ashley Imlay is an evening news manager for KSL.com. A lifelong Utahn, Ashley has also worked as a reporter for the Deseret News and is a graduate of Dixie State University.


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