Madison Friend, left, Dr. Amy Mayhew, Dr. Liza Little, Mary Record and Dr. Jeff Barkin participate in a discussion on youth and marijuana Monday at Yarmouth High School. Sydney Richelieu / The Forecaster

About 66% of Maine teenagers think marijuana is safe to use, according to David Packhem, founder of a nonprofit group that works to reduce substance abuse among students.

It’s not safe, and it’s up to parents and educators to teach youth that it’s isn’t, Packhem said Monday night at a forum on high-potency marijuana at Yarmouth High School.

Packhem said 25% of teens report using substances regularly, although that number varies from town to town and state to state.

“Quite honestly, we have a serious issue here in Maine,” he said.

Sales at state-licensed adult-use marijuana retailers in 2022 totaled $158.9 million, according the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy, nearly doubling total sales in 2021 total of $82 million.

“The notion that we can have a booming marijuana business in Maine, and keep our young people from using it, is a myth,” Packhem said.


Research shows that teens who use cannabis are more likely to experience difficulty thinking and problem solving, develop problems with memory and learning and have problems in school, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teens who use marijuana also have an increased risk of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, and addiction, the CDC says.

Panelist Dr. Jeff Barkin, a psychiatrist, emphasized that marijuana potency today makes it more dangerous for youth than in the past, especially when they use devices such as dab pens and vapes. Those devices use a marijuana concentrate that can contain anywhere from 40% THC to 80% THC, according to the DEA. THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the high sensation and causes addiction. “Top-shelf” regular marijuana has THC levels of about 20%, the DEA says.

Scarborough High School health teacher Mary Record says she sees students with marijuana devices every day. Education, she said, is the most important tool educators and parents can use to prevent teen addiction.

“If students know their brain and they know it’s vulnerable, they can make the decision to protect it,” Record said.

The panel discussion was sponsored by SEED, which stands for Students Empowered to End Dependency. Also on the panel were Madison Friend, a SEED student coordinator who is in recovery from addiction; Dr. Amy Mayhew, a child and adolescent psychiatrist; and Dr. Liza Little, psychologist.

Friend began using marijuana when she was a young teenager and used it every day until she made the decision to enter recovery 13 years later.


“I lost control over it,” Friend said. “I had to do it before everything.”

Mayhew said while she doesn’t believe marijuana is necessarily a gateway drug, she knows it can open the door for teens to try other drugs in the future.

“Once you’ve tried one thing, it’s easier to try others,” Mayhew said. “Once you’ve broken that barrier, it’s a barrier you don’t have to break again.”

SEED is producing a documentary series about addiction in young Mainers. Students from more than five schools are involved in interviewing, filming and editing the series, which will be used as an educational tool in schools.

The documentary is called “Voices of Hope … The Rugged Road to Recovery” and the first episodes, completed in 2021, are aired on Maine Public Television every Thursday at 8 p.m.

“What we’re really interested in is young people, and making sure that young people understand the seriousness of addiction,” Packhem said.

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