The “High” in high schools — “For millions of America’s teens, drugs and alcohol, not more advanced education, are what put the “high” in the high schools they attend.” Joseph A. Califano, Jr.

“For millions of teens, high school is a convenient place to get high; for millions of parents trying to raise drug-free kids, the “high” school years are the most dangerous time their children face, and the “high” schools (and nearby “high” spots) are a most dangerous place to send their kids.” Joseph Califano, A. Jr.


Synopsis of CASA’s Back to School Survey, National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVII: Teens Download here

National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, CASA

CASA’s Back to School Surveys interview teens ages 12 to 17 about their family, school and social environment in an effort to identify risk factors associated with smoking, drinking and using illegal drugs. It looks at teens’ family dynamics, their friends’ substance use, their access to alcohol and other drugs, and school characteristics.

Responses from teens about school and drugs led CASA to coin a new expression, America’s “High” School.

  • Nearly nine out of 10 high school students reported classmates drink, use drugs and smoke during the school day;
  • Over 50 percent reported there is a place on or near school grounds where classmates go to drink, use drugs and/or smoke during the day.

Social networking sites expose teens to pictures of other teens drinking, passed out or using drugs, and they encourage teen substance abuse.

  • Sixty-two percent of teens say that seeing pictures of teens using marijuana on social networking sites encourages other teens to want to use marijuana.
  • Sixty-three percent of teens say that seeing pictures of teens drinking on social networking sites encourages other teens to want to drink.

Parents are a risk factor associated with their teen’s smoking, drinking and using drugs. Parental disapproval sways teens’ behavior.

  • Eighty-seven percent of teens said their parents would be upset to learn that they had used marijuana.
  • Teens who say their parents would not be extremely upset are four and a half times likelier to have used marijuana (45 percent vs. 10 percent).

Parents who leave teens home alone introduce a potential risk factor; these teens are more likely to have used tobacco, alcohol or marijuana.

  • Compared to teens who are never home alone overnight, those who report being home overnight are more than twice as likely to have used marijuana (23 percent vs. 11 percent).
  • Compared to teens who report being home alone once a week or less often, teens who report that they are home alone in the evening more than once a week are nearly twice as likely to have used marijuana (22 percent vs. 12 percent).

The Effects of Marijuana on the Young Undeveloped Brain

Hold up a bunch of grapes. Your brain cells are clustered like a bunch of grapes. For your body to work your brain cells need to communicate with each other. These grapes have to talk to each other, and they do that by sending messages, one cell to another.

Just like grapes, each cell has an outer layer. Grapes have a skin, and cells have a membrane. It protects the contents inside. In the cell’s membrane there are receptors which receive messages telling the cell what to do, and it is these messages that tell your body what to do. The membrane is very important; it controls the receptors and the cell’s communication system. The membrane is like the brain of the cell. You don’t want to damage the membrane.

If you were in a grocery store and saw grapes with the skin pulled off, would you buy them? No, because they were damaged, and who would want to eat them.

Marijuana has THC, a psychoactive ingredient, which is fat soluble; the fat in THC is drawn to the fat molecules in the body, specifically brain cells. When you use marijuana, the THC goes to the brain cells and sticks to the cells. The THC sticking on the cells blocks or slows messages being sent to the receptors in the membrane. Normal communication with the cells is interrupted, and your body struggles to know what to do. Marijuana use may cause lasting changes in the brain.

Experiment: Drop honey onto the bunch of grapes, coating the skins. This is how THC sticks to the cells. The messages can’t travel through the honey to reach the cell’s membrane and its receptors, so they try to find ways around the THC, or the honey.

Your brain is incredible, and you need to protect it. It does not fully develop until you are 24 or 25. It is important not to damage your brain cells; you want to be all you can be.

So, if a “friend” asks you to try marijuana, just say, “No, I don’t want to mess up my grapes.” They will leave you alone because they think you are strange, and then you can go and find another friend.

Joyce Lohrentz

Former Teacher — Joyce taught middle school students about “marijuana and the brain” through an original high school/middle school drug education program.