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By Ricki Hall

The more people know about substance use, the easier it is to talk about and guide people in a direction to get help when there is a problem. Talking to teenagers about substance use can be difficult, but it's a conversation worth having. Right now, marijuana use and vaping are becoming popular among teens.

In Benton County, 10% of the 11th graders reported using marijuana. This number is gradually increasing throughout the state of Iowa. Although marijuana is not legal in Iowa, there is a misconception that legal substances or natural substances are less harmful to the body. This is not true, especially in the developing brain of a teenager. Teenagers are more prone to develop a substance use disorder and develop it more quickly than adults. According to the CDC, people who use marijuana regularly are more likely to develop anxiety and depression.

The most popular substance being used among teens is nicotine. In Benton County, 16% of 11th graders report using electronic cigarettes (vapes) in the past 30-days. There is a misconception that vapes are less harmful than cigarettes. Nicotine, found in cigarettes and vapes, can be dangerous to anyone, but especially the teenage brain because it is still developing. Big tobacco companies have misled people into using vapes as a form of smoking cessation. However, one JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as 41 cigarettes, compared to 20 in a pack of cigarettes. Nicotine rewires and changes the brain to crave an instant release of dopamine. While the brain might feel pleasure temporarily, the rest of the body is reacting poorly. The heart beats faster due to a fight or flight response caused by nicotine and the lungs and throat become irritated. It's always important to be cautious when using vapes. They can have unknown substances in them, including marijuana which has been found in vapes.

What can be done if a teenager is suspected to be using substances? Learn more about marijuana and vaping and the harms associated with it. Listen to them. Ask them if they know the risks of using marijuana and nicotine products and why might they be using them. Listening, shows them people care about their health. Encourage them to quit using these products and seek additional help if necessary.

If you have concerns about someone in your life and their drinking or substance use, contact Area Substance Abuse Council (ASAC). ASAC can provide education for the community or help someone find treatment services. Let's work together to help our communities and the people we love to be safe, thoughtful and responsible. Contact prevention@asac.us or 319-390- 4611 for more information about prevention, presentations or treatment services

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John Stiegelmeyer June 24, 2022, 8:53 pm I think this was biology class At WHS. The teacher put a drop of pure nicotine on the tougue of a bird - don't remember the breed. The bird died almost immediately. Still I didn't learn the lesson and smoke cigarettes for 20 years until I wised up. In one of our classrooms was the statement - if you don't smoke until you are 21 then you will never smoke. Good advice I ignored.
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