Students Learn About Drugs In Online Chat

Students Learn About Drugs In Online Chat

Andrew Mansfield
Reporter, The Gardner News

GARDNER  It’s easy to tell adolescents that drugs and alcohol are bad news and to never experiment with them, but that message can be hollow without any backing. 

Kids are smart enough to ask questions and wants answers, which is why the Gardner Community Action Team led Gardner students in participating in a national “drug chat” day on Tuesday.

“Students can go and ask anything about drugs and addiction, anything they want to know,” said Action Team Coordinator Veronika Patty. 

The event was run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a Maryland-based federally funded research institute, and had schools participate nationwide. It was part of its National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week.

Its scientists and experts hosted a live chat over the Internet all day Tuesday, taking in thousands of questions nationwide, posting their answers on a variety of topics for all participants to see. 

Students from Gardner High School, Gardner Middle School, and the alternative high school Gardner Academy of Learning and Technology took part in the event. 

Patty said the concept of having students participate was to give actual data and a scientific perspective to learn about drugs and alcohol, as opposed to relying on perceptions.

Students at Gardner Academy took turns having time in the computer room to submit their questions and view the results of the chat.

Many of them found the event to be relevant to their lives, as they are emerging adults. 

“It’s very interesting for kids our age to learn about it and know about it. They actually give you enough info to find out,” said Gardner Academy student Serina Nguyen.

“I learned a lot more about stuff like heroin overdoses and how to prevent them, so if something like that happened around you, you can stop it and help it,” said Gardner Academy student LeeAnn Harthon, referencing her learning about the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan. 

Gardner Academy student Samson Jaillet said “there’s a lot I know and a lot I don’t know” when it comes to drugs and alcohol. He specifically wanted to know the difference between the long-term effects of alcohol use and marijuana use, if one was more harmful than the other, and if so, why.

While he said his questions weren’t directly answered during the half hour he spent on the live chat, he continued to peruse the information on the Web page until he had to go back to class. 

He said he knows people who struggle with substance abuse from a variety of addictions, and seeing that makes him wonder the reasons behind it.

“I like to know why they do what they do and the effects it is having on them,” he said. 

One drug in particular that sparked curiosity was marijuana, as many states have made the drug legal medicinally over the last decade, and a few have even made it legal recreationally over the last few years, with Colorado being a pioneer. 

Despite the fact that it’s hard to argue that marijuana is as harmful as “hard” drugs like heroin, research shows it can still pose a threat to users, most notably youth who don’t have fully developed brains. 

“It’s a plant from the ground, but they can put other chemicals in it that can make it addictive. It slows down your brain, makes you think in a different way. I know some people take it and completely go bonkers,” said Harthon. 

Nguyen added that it can have a medicinal purpose for conditions such as anxiety, but using it impairs cognition, the ability to drive, and dependency can develop.

“People think it doesn’t have an effect on you, just that it’s a good feeling. It does have a huge effect on you,” she said. 

For Gardner Academy student Brandan Murphy, his questioning of marijuana was not connected to its effects, but the history of it becoming illegal in the United States. 

He read that marijuana’s affiliation with the nonpsychoactive plant hemp, which has many industrial purposes and like marijuana is a variety of the cannabis plant, affected marijuana’s legality negatively in the ’30s when business leaders from the timber industry pushed politicians to make the cannabis plant illegal. One major use of hemp is the making of durable paper.

His question over the possibility of a “smear campaign” against marijuana meant to induce public fear over the drug as a means to also making hemp illegal was not answered in the classroom time he had for the chat. 

However, by posting the question he gave himself the chance of seeing it answered later in the day.

“It’s an interesting question that I’m sure a lot of people have,” he said. 

While some specific questions went unanswered in their chat time, Gardner Academy students walked away with more overall knowledge about the power of addiction through reading responses to questions that experts posted.

“It’s not going to let you go unless you really work hard at it; even then you can relapse,” said Harthon.

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