Panel discusses teen marijuana usage and myths

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Dec. 8, 2011
(L-r) Recovering addict Corey Sharken, Dr. Wayne Paulekas and Officer Allison Collard of the Glastonbury Police Department take part in a panel discussion on marijuana at a forum hosted by the Youth Advisory Council on Dec. 6. Photos by Steve Smith.
(L-r) Recovering addict Corey Sharken, Dr. Wayne Paulekas and Officer Allison Collard of the Glastonbury Police Department take part in a panel discussion on marijuana at a forum hosted by the Youth Advisory Council on Dec. 6. Photos by Steve Smith.

The Glastonbury Youth and Family Services’ Youth Advisory Council held a forum on Dec. 6 to discuss marijuana use among local teens, as well as to address some misconceptions about the drug.

Corey Sharken, a recovering addict (of multiple substances) told his story, which included how he felt like an outsider in middle school.

“I didn’t know who I was,” Sharken said. “I didn’t want to make that effort to become friends with someone, and let people know who I was.”

He added that he had a lack of desire to connect with people on a real level, instead opting for “fake friends” who shared the drug culture as a means of acceptance.

Sharken’s teen years included various forms of therapy, including two institutions, a boarding school and wilderness camp.

He said that eventually, one day he simply realized he might have a problem, and his healing began. He said he now tells his story to others as part of his own therapy, and advised everyone to seek self-acceptance.

“No one else needs to accept you,” he said. “You need to accept you. You’re the only person you’re living with the rest of your life. It doesn’t matter if other people think you’re cool - it’s just a surface thing.”

A panel discussion followed, including Sharken, Officer Allison Collard of the Glastonbury Police Department’s Youth Unit, Dr. Wayne Paulekas, a doctor of internal medicine with Prime Healthcare of Wethersfield, and members of the YAC.

Collard said she has seen marijuana use in Glastonbury High School, but added that it really comes down to the choices students make about how they spend their time and who they associate with. “If you want to find it, you can find it,” she said, “but you can just as easily avoid it.”

Collard said another current issue is that, particularly with alcohol, more parents are providing their teens with substances.

“I think what has changed is that the parents’ providing has become more popular,” she said. “We have had a lot more cases of parents providing the alcohol, and having that acceptance of, ‘Well, they are going to do it anyway, so I might as well try to provide a safe environment for the kids to do it.’”

Paulekas was asked if marijuana is addicting. “Absolutely,” he said. “Clear evidence, on a bio-chemical level, shows that receptors in the brain change with consistent exposure to cannabis, so that its response is decreasing and you need more and more - the classic addiction response that happens with many forms of substance abuse. There is a withdrawal phenomenon, and a physical craving as well as a psychological craving.”

“I thought it went really well,” YAC Press Liaison Paige Cantwell said, adding that she thought other teens can relate to the seemingly normal struggles Sharken faced that factored into his drug use.

“Just how normal his life seemed,” she said. “A lot of people go to different colleges and don’t know what they’re going to do, and have families that have the best intentions but they have trouble listening to them. His story was relatable.”

Cantwell said she thought the parts of Sharken’s message about being one’s own struggle was a powerful one.

“He said you have to do this for you,” she said. “No one can force you to be sober, and he wishes he had done things for himself, instead of doing things for other people. I think he wanted that to be his takeaway.”

YAC members Billy Meany and Alex Bzydra said they hoped the forum’s messages would reach teens that use drugs, in a variety of ways.

“I hope that person is able to see that there are other ways to get by in life,” Bzydra said, “and that the community is willing to step up and help people. And, that we are coming together, trying to find solutions and bringing it some attention.”

“I always thought of marijuana as more of a gateway drug,” Meany said. “I thought it just led to bad things, but from [Sharken], I learned that that really affected his life. Just marijuana by itself made him pull out of everything and isolate himself.”

Learning about the long-term effects of marijuana also resonated with the teens. “From [Sharken’s] story, and what the doctor said, I think it’s true, that you’re more likely to be a burnout when you’re older,” Bzydra said. “You’ll be less successful in life. You have all the possibilities and opportunities, but if you’re smoking pot in high school just to fit in, that can ruin all of that for the rest of your life.”

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