LEWISTON — Healthy Androscoggin hosted a panel discussion and presentation on marijuana Tuesday evening at the Lewiston Public Library.

Health Promotion Coordinator for Healthy Androscoggin, Dan Morin, started the evening with a presentation outlining the dangers of marijuana use and teens.

According to Morin and data provided by Healthy Androscoggin from the 2013 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey results for Androscoggin County, marijuana use among middle schoolers was on the rise between 2011 and 2013.

The survey shows an increase of middle schoolers who reported ever using marijuana county-wide from 7.9 percent to 12.2 percent. This far exceeds the state average of 8.2 percent.

The state average for marijuana use in the past 30 days stands at 4.4 percent while Androscoggin middle schoolers report 6.9 percent.

Middle school youth claiming there is little or no risk from regular marijuana use has risen from 20.4 percent to 29.4 percent, and those who believe there is little to no risk for using once or twice a week stands at 35.9 percent compared to a statewide average of 29.4 percent.

Panel member Kevin Cowell from Russell Medical Centers said he has seen firsthand the effects of marijuana on youth. He said in his own practice, he has seen teens self-diagnosing and then treating those symptoms with marijuana.

Scott Gagnon, Substance Abuse Prevention Manager at Healthy Androscoggin, said marijuana use among teens has had a huge impact on his role in prevention.

Gagnon said that just in the last two to four years, the “landscape has changed a lot,” saying, “When I saw that middle school data — that jump — it really kind of took me back.”

With two kids growing up in Auburn, Gagnon said, “It’s an imperative we get on top of this.” He said there is currently a lot of conflicting information sending mixed messages to teens and adults alike.

On what would seem like the other side of the issue, a similar message resounded from those who work closely with marijuana use and regulation.

David Boyer from the Marijuana Policy Project, the group instrumental in legalizing marijuana in Portland, also voiced concerns about youth and marijuana.

“It is important that we educate younger and older people alike about the relative harms associated with marijuana, alcohol and other drugs,” Boyer said, “It is equally important that we have a marijuana policy that reflects those relative harms.”

“The key to preventing youth marijuana use is control, and under our current prohibition laws, we have no control over marijuana,” he said. “Educating young people about marijuana and deterring use does not require criminalizing countless adult marijuana consumers.”

Tim Smale, founder and executive director of the Remedy Compassion Center in Auburn, said, “From the limited research we have available on the matter, I would tend to agree that cannabis use for those under 21, and perhaps even somewhat older, should be under physician care, but again, the research is early and unclear.

“Certainly, we all could agree that cannabis use should be limited to only adults, except where a doctor recommends its use,” Smale said, “and I believe only a physician can comment on the risk versus benefit of cannabis use for those under 21 years of age.

“I believe a highly regulated program with enforcement, just the way we have with dispensaries in Maine, is safe for society and offers cannabis in forms that are safe and acceptable for the conditions physicians treat with this herbal remedy,” Smale said.

“I hope for better medicines made from cannabis, which more research will provide, but until it’s rescheduled, we are a long way from better relief than what we now provide on a daily basis to thousands of people We can’t take that away, and certainly well-run, highly regulated dispensaries like ours serve an important purpose.”

[email protected]

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, illicit drug use among teens remains high, largely due to increasing popularity of marijuana.

While teen marijuana use declined from the late 1990s until the late 2000s, it has since been on the rise due to changing perceptions and growing acceptance of marijuana. The NIDA said historically, as perceptions of risk go down, use goes up.

Nationwide, the NIDA said in 2013, 7.0 percent of eighth-graders, 18.0 percent of 10th-graders, and 22.7 percent of 12th graders used marijuana in the past month, up from 5.8 percent, 13.8 percent, and 19.4 percent in 2008. Daily use has also increased; 6.5 percent of 12th-graders now use marijuana every day, compared to 5 percent in the mid 2000s.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.