Roughly two dozen teachers attending the Southeast Arizona Teachers’ Academy June 7, received the latest information on vaping, a dangerous trend spreading throughout the nation’s schools.
Nearly 180 teachers headed to Eastern Arizona College to pick and choose from more than 100 free classes that were offered over four days last week. Teachers who teach preschool on up through high school chose classes that covered such things as classroom management, trauma recognition and de-stressing techniques, to name a few. Presenters from all over the state put on the classes.
Jennifer Labrum, licensed clinical social worker and project coordinator for the Graham County Substance Abuse Coalition, stood in front of a classroom of educators and held up a bottle of vaping juice and described the differences between regular vape juice and the juice that has marijuana in it.
Regular vaping juice looks like water, she said. The vaping juice that contains marijuana oil looks oily.
Labrum also passed out different types of vaping devices, many of which are disguised to look like ordinary items such as thumb drives and pens.
Most of the time teens share their disposable vaping devices and don’t even know what is in them, said Labrum.
“The CDC did a study, and they went all around the country and bought as many vape boxes as they could and what they found when they tested those was that 99.9% contained nicotine no matter what the label said. They virtually all had nicotine. Again the industry is new, it’s not well regulated, it’s not well enforced, those labels are not accurate,” she said.
She said several ways of telling if a student has nicotine their system is increased heart and breathing rates and higher blood pressure.
Since many teens use vapes without knowing what is in them, they can easily ingest marijuana, too, Labrum said. Marijuana can also increase heart rate and include several different mind-altering symptoms, said Labrum.
Many parents and educators don’t understand the THC concentration of marijuana, which is the main psychoactive compound, is much higher now than ever before due to genetic altering of the plant, she said. The higher concentration affects the brain differently and can cause extreme symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and symptoms of psychosis, she said.
The symptoms can mimic schizophrenia symptoms and parents often don’t know what is going on when their child exhibits them, she said.
“I had a mom call and say, ‘Jennifer, my son is acting like he has schizophrenia, I don’t know what’s going on with him. He is super paranoid, he’s jumping out of cars, he’s running out of the house and down the street, and I don’t know what’s going on,’” she said. “I said that’s interesting because high concentrated marijuana can have those psychotic effects. She said, ‘What?’ He did have TCH in his system. She said she had no idea.”
One of the first questions people ask is how teens are getting vaping tools, and the answer is Snapchat, LaBrum said. Through the Snapchat app teens can contact someone selling vape and purchase it. Teens also get vape devices from friends and family.
According to the Arizona Youth Survey, teens who vape are looking for fun and stress relief, Labrum said. However, the study also showed parental disapproval, fear of the law, or fear of parental consequences do have a deterrent effect so parents really need to talk to their kids about it, she said.
Vaping damages the lungs and can be a stepping stone for some teens into other drugs, too, she said.
On a positive note, some local school districts are investing in new devices that can monitor air quality and alert school staff when vaping is underway.
David Woodall, Morenci Unified School District superintendent, said Morenci High School will have the monitors in every bathroom very soon.
“It’s a really nice tool, it’s certainly not going to eliminate vaping but it may at least discourage it a little bit,” Woodall said. “This is brand new to our district, and we’re still in the process of learning how to best utilize the technology. What we want to do is discourage vaping, and we’re hoping this is a tool that does that.”
Ryan Conrad, Thatcher High School principal, said the Thatcher Unified School District has applied for grant funding to purchase some of the same air monitoring devices and hopes to have them installed by fall.
“What happens is it will send a text to a cell phone,” he said. “It’s a proactive effort to do our part at the school against vaping. Vaping is an identified problem, and we’re looking to be proactive.”