4:03 PM EST, February 21, 2013
ROANOKE CO., Va.
High School is beginning to take on a life of it's own in Roanoke County.
"I've heard that there are some people who do end up coming to school high."
Sally Greenberg is a freshman at Hidden Valley High School and she's noticed that more and more of her friends are getting high, "A bunch of my friends do it. And I know that if I wanted some, I'd ask my friends and they know where to get some or they have some at home."
Greenberg says she started noticing it in the 8th grade and "it gets worse and worse" as you progress through high school.
Same story with Tyler Langhorn, a Junior at Glenvar High School, "If you get out there and ask ten people, six of them will tell you 'I've seen marijuana.'"
Both Langhorn and Greenberg made roughly the same estimate about how many students smoke; half.
Roanoke County has given a Youth Risk Behavior Survey every other year since 2002 to determine what sorts of risk behaviors students engage in and how to fix them.
According to that survey, only 20 percent of students admit to smoking weed in the past 30 days.
The perceptions of how many of Greenberg and Langhorn's peers are smoking is certainly important when prevention counselors try to assess this problem. But if the current number of kids who admit to smoking isn't high enough, indications are good it's about to get, well, higher.
The reason why: more and more students don't perceive any physical harm in smoking marijuana. A 14% drop in the past eight years is reason for concern among Roanoke County Prevention Specialists Nancy Hans and Fran Kiker.
"We are certain and we are told by the people that help us analyze these figures that fortells a lot more use in the future becasue they don't think it's as harmful," said Kiker.
Both Kiker and Hans cite two big reasons why students don't think smoking weed is bad for their health; parents and the messages students are getting.
In the same study, the percentage of students who say their parents would disapprove of their marijuana use has dropped 4%, a small drop in eight years, but a drop nonetheless.
"We want parents to say 'substances are not good for you in any form' especially at the age that they are," said Hans.
The other reason: the messages they're getting.
"I am sure that the messaging out there in the media that they hear, that has also contributed to what we call this perception of harm, perception of risk," said Hans.
Those messages in the media range from seeing athletes like Michael Phelps to singers like Justin Bieber smoking marijuana.
Tyler Langhorn also says it's not just Bieber, but musicians from all genres are open about marijuana use in their songs.
Langhorn also discussed media coverage of the 18 states that have, in some way, shape or form, legalized marijuana for recreational or medicinal use,
"You turn on the news and this state's legal, this state's legal or this state's fighting about being legal or this guy's smoking weed in this music video."
Is there hope to fix it?
Prevention specialists are optimistic. After all, they say the percentage of students smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are at record lows. They think their success in that comes from better educating students on the health and legal consequences of abusing substances.
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