The city of Chicago is trying to get the word out on the dangers of marijuana use among kids and young adults as recreational pot is close to being legal in Illinois.
The education campaign, dubbed Cannabis Facts Chicago, emphasizes how dangerous it can be for people under 25 to use marijuana, because their brains are still developing. It also gives tips for responsible use among adults, like abstaining if pregnant and not driving while high.
Recreational pot will become legal in Illinois on Jan. 1, 2020, but will remain illegal for those under 21.
Marijuana use among kids has been linked to impaired brain development, and increased risks of depression and suicidal thoughts, according to city officials and health experts.
The campaign also tells people to store cannabis products safely so they’re not consumed by kids or pets, avoid frequent marijuana use and to know how much THC — the ingredient that gets you high — is in the marijuana you’re consuming. It advises people who are pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid cannabis entirely, and tells people with a history of mental health issues to consult a physician before use.
The city’s department of public health said in a press release it will work with partners in the medical community, Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges of Chicago to communicate its tips to residents, particularly young people.
“We’ve learned from other states and cities where cannabis has been legalized, and one important lesson is around responsible consumption — take it slow and know what you’re consuming,” Chicago Department of Public Health Acting Commissioner Allison Arwady said in a press release. “Overuse of cannabis, both short- and long-term, can have negative health consequences. And young people should not be using it at all.”
The campaign comes as advocates and experts in teen drug abuse prevention have expressed concerns about how legalization will affect use among teens.
There’s particular concern about youth overdoses, as Colorado saw a spike in hospitalizations among kids after that state legalized recreational pot in 2014.
Prevention specialists say it’s important to have conversations with kids as marijuana hits the market in Illinois. They say part of that conversation should be telling kids why smoking weed might stop them from reaching goals that are important to them, such as athletic performance, or getting into college.
Mariah Woelfel is a reporter at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @MariahWoelfel.