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Local nonprofit works to spread awareness about chronic pot use 

Nearly all of the seats were filled at a Marijuana and Youth forum held in the Lucia Mar Unified School District boardroom on Jan. 31.

The forum, put on by local nonprofit Prevention of Substance Abuse for Youth (POSAFY), presented the adverse effects of long-term chronic pot use in teenagers to young adults.

The biggest concern surrounds cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS). According to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the condition—although rare and only found in daily long-term marijuana users—leads to repeated and severe bouts of vomiting.

At the forum, Annika, who asked that her full name not be used due to privacy concerns, shared her story about marijuana dependency that led her to be diagnosed with the condition.

Annika told New Times that she started smoking as just a social thing during the summer between her freshman and sophomore year of high school. It quickly turned into something she felt she needed to do every day.

"I would wake up and reach into my nightstand to get my pen and smoke before I got out of bed," she said. "And smoking was the last thing I did before I went to bed."

In order for her to hide her smoking habits from her parents, Annika said she would use dab wax or vape pens because the higher THC levels meant that the pot smell would be next to none.

After two and a half years of consistently smoking throughout the day, Annika said she started randomly throwing up.

"One day, I started throwing up and it didn't stop for a whole month," she said.

Annika was in and out of the emergency room several times before she was finally taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital where she was diagnosed with CHS.

It took her 98 days to get clean. At 18 years old, looking back, she said she had no idea that CHS existed or could happen.

POSAFY's mission is to provide early education on prevention and substance abuse so kids know the risk of what they're consuming.

click to enlarge INFORMED DECISIONS Jody Belsher's mission is to educate young adults about the adverse effects of marijuana consumption. - PHOTO COURTESY OF PREVENTION OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE FOR YOUTH
  • Photo Courtesy Of Prevention Of Substance Abuse For Youth
  • INFORMED DECISIONS Jody Belsher's mission is to educate young adults about the adverse effects of marijuana consumption.

Jody Belsher, the nonprofit's president, said her family member was diagnosed with CHS and, at the time, she had no idea what it was nor did she believe that someone could become addicted to marijuana.

It prompted her to do some research at medical centers across the country and create a documentary called The Other Side of Cannabis: Negative Effects of Marijuana on Our Youth. Belsher said she started POSAFY to share her findings with parents and youth.

Aside from looking into CHS, she said she learned that adolescent developing brains are adversely affected by THC.

"We're seeing really dramatic, negative impacts such as mental illness, schizophrenia triggered by THC or exacerbated by THC," she said.

During adolescence, she said, the brain goes through a pruning process. Neural pathways develop early on and what isn't used is pruned out—THC disrupts that system.

Belsher said she wants to make it clear that the nonprofit is not anti-marijuana and is not trying to tell anyone what to do, but she wants people—especially young adults—to know the risk that they're taking.

"The problem is we don't know who is at risk, and it's a gigantic risk, especially if you're in that process of brain development," she said. Δ

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