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Survey: Marijuana Use Among Wilton Teens Is Up, Alcohol Use Remains Steady

Dr. John Douglas of New Canaan's Silver Hill Hospital delivers a presentation on marijuana to a group of Wilton parents Tuesday following the presentation of survey results on substance abuse in Wilton teens. Photo Credit: Jay Polansky
Dr. John Douglas of New Canaan's Silver Hill Hospital delivers a presentation on marijuana to a group of Wilton parents Tuesday following the presentation of survey results on substance abuse in Wilton teens. Photo Credit: Jay Polansky

WILTON, Conn. — Marijuana use by Wilton 11th and 12th graders increased nearly 10 percent between 2011 and 2015, while underage alcohol consumption remained the same, according the results of a new survey.

Experts said the decriminalization of marijuana in many states coupled with the proliferation of cannabis products — from edibles to hand creams — may be causing more teens to perceive marijuana as less harmful than in years past.

“This is not unique to Wilton,” Positive Directions Grant Director Wendy Bentivegna said at an event held at the Wilton Library Tuesday. She said communities across the country are seeing similar occurrences.

The use of medical marijuana is also causing teens to become less wary of using the drug. “If you can get a prescription for something, how bad can it be?” she said of the mindset of some teens.

Use of e-cigarettes, which recently came to market, is also on the rise, Bentivegna said. Because they're "supposedly healthier" and "well-marketed", teens who had never considered smoking a traditional tobacco cigarette are taking up e-cigarettes.

The e-cigarettes come in attractive flavors to teens, including cherry, watermelon and bubble gum. Teachers in schools have even reported smelling fruit in school restrooms, indicating that students may have been using e-cigarettes there.

While some people may believe e-cigarettes are healthier than traditional tobacco cigarettes, Bentivegna said that is not necessarily the case. E-cigarettes can release formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, when the vapor is heated to a high enough temperature.

Bentivegna also said other side effects from using e-cigarettes are not yet known. “It’s kind of being like a lab rat, and that is kind of scary,” Bentivegna said.

Parents should be watchful of teen drinking, Bentivegna said. Ten percent of high school seniors in Wilton reported binge drinking — consuming more than five drinks in one night — more than five times in one month.

Bentivegna said drinking is caused by peer pressure — but not in the traditional sense. Teens are drinking because they want to be seen as cool. Their friends are not explicitly asking them to drink.

“There’s a status associated with drinking,” Bentivegna said. “The kids feel they need to do what’s cool.”

But when it comes to using illicit or even legal drugs, Bentivegna said parents who warn their children of the dangers of substance abuse can have a positive impact on their children.

“We really do have an impact more than we think we do,” Bentivegna said.

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