When the media recently reported an incident at a local high school involving two 16-year-old students and an “edible,” we were reminded that underage drinking and illicit drug use are not happening “somewhere else.” One student ended up in the hospital and the other was arrested and charged with juvenile delinquency and endangering the welfare of a child. My heart goes out to the students and their families.
This incident compelled me to write this letter to provide information regarding this current trend in cannabis use. “Edible” is the common name for food products infused with cannabis extract. They’re available in many forms, including gummies, cakes, cookies, and other candy-like forms.
NYS law now makes it legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to three ounces of cannabis for personal use. Despite being illegal for teen use, marijuana remains one of the most used illicit drugs among teens. Additionally, many “edibles” are made and purchased illegally. Edible use can be particularly concerning due to the route of administration. Edibles are ingested and take longer for the person using them to feel the effect, often using more than they intend to and becoming highly intoxicated.
A 2022 study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reported the use of any illicit drug in the past year was 11% of 8th graders, 21.5% of 10th graders, and 32.6% of 12th graders. The survey found that adolescents most reported use of alcohol, nicotine vaping, and cannabis.
Cannabis use during adolescence may harm the developing brain. It has been linked to a range of mental health problems, such as depression, and social anxiety. Other negative effects include difficulty thinking and developing healthy coping strategies, as well as difficulties with problem solving, paying attention, memory and learning issues, and reduced coordination, all of which can result in academic and social challenges.
Catholic Charities of Orange, Sullivan & Ulster helps schools and parents combat the issues of adolescent substance use. Our Prevention team focuses on fighting the disease of addiction before it starts. Utilizing school curriculum, community outreach, and training, they work with youth, parents, school districts, and other community members. Their youth-centered programs help students develop life skills and coping mechanisms to respond when issues of substance use arise.
In partnership with Orange-Ulster BOCES, Catholic Charities operates RESTART, a short-term, school-based, intensive day-treatment for students ages 12 – 21 who are struggling with substance use. Students enrolled in RESTART receive treatment and recovery support at BOCES’ Goshen location and work with teachers and counselors to maintain academic progress. Family treatment is also available, and encouraged, for the student’s support network. Working with school districts, RESTART strives to keep youth in the community and engaged in their studies while treating the substance use disorder. Upon program completion, students return to their home district with their education on track and intact. Non-school-based outpatient treatment is also available for adolescents at all Catholic Charities’ clinic locations, as well as support for families, even if the person actively using is not currently in treatment. Assistance is provided to those in need regardless of religion, insurance status, or ability to pay.
Substance use by teens can have a significant impact on their long-term health and well-being. The earlier teens start using substances, the greater their chances of becoming addicted or continuing to abuse substances later in life. Thinking that it’s not happening in my school, or that it’s just an “edible,” can be a slippery slope. It’s necessary for our children, their families, and their support networks to break the stigma of addiction by having conversations, being aware of community resources, and knowing that help is available.
Amy Kolakowski, LCSW
Chief Clinical Officer
Catholic Charities of Orange, Sullivan & Ulster