March 22, 2024

Navigating and addressing the rise of Delta-8 use among students

Be sure to check out the suggested Huddle question at the bottom of this article to discuss this important topic with your students in class, if you feel it is appropriate.

A recent study conducted by the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California is shedding light on a trend many educators may be seeing among their students: approximately 11% of high school seniors have experimented with Delta-8 THC. This compound, legal in 22 states, shares similar effects with Delta-9 THC, which is commonly found in cannabis.

Adding to the challenge of Delta-8 THC is the lack of regulations around this popular drug in many states around the country – with a growing fear about unmonitored and potentially harmful use of Delta-8 THC among students. 

Yet, in many ways, a potential statewide ban doesn’t address the entire picture. The truth is that cannabis has been in schools for nearly 60 years. But what makes today different? Students are being exposed to content or interacting with ads about substances like Delta-8 THC on social media and tech. Perhaps they see their peers on social media using these substances. Or they are navigating a lack of education and misinformation on its effects. 

Keep reading to explore some research on how Delta-8 impacts students’ brains, why students are drawn to it, and how educators can empower students to handle the pressure of Delta-8 and substances both in and out of the classroom. 

The student brain and Delta-8

Understanding the impact of cannabis compounds like Delta-8 THC on student brains requires a closer look at brain development during adolescence. The brain experiences significant growth during early ages, with adolescence being a crucial period for fine-tuning and developing critical thinking skills. The prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making and critical thinking, undergoes substantial development during this time.

Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC, which mimic the cannabinoids produced naturally in our bodies, can affect various brain functions. These can include appetite, learning, memory, anxiety, and mood regulation. While cannabis has been used to treat anxiety and pain in adults, chronic use can have detrimental effects on developing minds. Research from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction indicates that regular cannabis and Delta-8 compound users show decreased prefrontal activity compared to non-users, potentially impacting critical thinking and development. Thankfully, research has also shown the teen brain is remarkably resilient. Brain plasticity, or the brain’s ability to change in response to external factors, is high during teenage years. This means that even if a teenager has experimented with cannabis, their brain can bounce back in the long term. But, how can we help students avoid the effects on their brains altogether?

Often, Delta-8 is consumed in class, and there has been a trend of students retreating to bathrooms to consume Delta-8 through edible food or vape pens. As of recently, some schools have even opted to use surveillance tech to stop this trend. We know that educators play a vital role in promoting well-being and success in students, and we can take a proactive approach to navigating challenging trends like Delta-8 that are impacting our classroom and student well-being. 

The impact of peer influence both online and offline

The challenge of Delta-8 THC use among high school students stems from various factors, including peer influence and coping mechanisms. The majority of the time, students might pick up habits to fit in or bond with others. However, this type of peer pressure only explains half of the picture.  

Around 82% of students who reported using cannabis, which shares similar effects with delta-8 THC, in the past year also reported that they had friends who also used cannabis. Close friendships, especially those based on trust, can significantly affect students’ access to Delta-8. Trusted friends may serve as a primary source of access to the substance, contributing to its use among students.

Additionally, many students turn to recreational drugs such as Delta-8 as a coping mechanism for managing stress and negative emotions. In fact, a survey by the American Psychological Association found that 53% of teens used drugs to cope with emotional challenges in their lives. 

Research, such as studies done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, already shows a link between heightened social media usage among students and their perceptions of vaping. This constant exposure to images and videos showcasing influencers who follow vaping and targeted ads may make students feel compelled to conform to these standards to maintain popularity or feel excluded from their peer groups. These trends could lead to the rise educators see in students experimenting with Delta-8. 

So, how can we empower students to navigate these trends in positive and high-character ways?

Finding positivity in daily life all while handling the pressure

In today’s fast-paced world, students are juggling many challenges, from academic pressures to personal responsibilities, while navigating social media and technology. With this whirlwind, many students seek ways to decompress and relieve the mounting pressure. Students sometimes turn to substances like Delta-8 to do so, as they release dopamine and endorphins. 

The good news is that these chemicals are not exclusive to Delta-8 THC; they can also be naturally experienced in everyday life by students. For instance, engaging in physical activities like sports or exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, leading to happiness and reduced stress. Similarly, spending quality time with friends and family triggers the release of dopamine, the “reward” neurotransmitter, which enhances feelings of pleasure and connection. This, in turn, may contribute to less stress for students and a more positive educational experience.

As an educator, it’s not always easy to navigate difficult trends, like Delta-8, impacting students. By emphasizing the importance of healthy activities and positive experiences, educators can empower students to cultivate sustainable habits that support their mental, emotional, and academic success. 

Discover more ways educators can empower students to handle the pressure without turning to substances. 

  • Building Positive Connections:
    • Educators can create a supportive classroom vibe that boosts teamwork and positive social interactions. This means fostering a sense of belonging, encouraging students to work together, and promoting respectful communication. Positive relationships with peers and teachers can boost students’ motivation, engagement, and overall happiness in school.
  • Celebrating Accomplishments:
    • It’s important for educators to acknowledge and celebrate students’ successes. When teachers recognize and praise students’ efforts and achievements, it triggers a feel-good chemical in the brain called dopamine. This not only makes students feel accomplished but also motivates them to keep pushing themselves.
  • Encouraging Creativity:
    • Educators can also inspire students to get creative through activities like art, music, writing, or problem-solving. These activities release dopamine and bring a sense of joy and accomplishment. Incorporating creative projects into the curriculum and giving students space for self-expression can boost their confidence and make learning more enjoyable.

By using these positive approaches, educators can empower students, improve their well-being, and create a classroom where everyone can succeed and feel good about their learning journey. For more insights on how student’s brains develop during adolescence, check out our latest Huddle Up episode with Craig Knippenberg, Understanding the impact of social media on brain development in students’ lives. 

#WinAtSocial Huddle Question

Huddle with your students
What feel-good activities do you enjoy outside of school, and how do you think incorporating such activities into our school environment could positively impact students’ well-being and overall learning experience?

The Social Institute (TSI) is the leader in empowering students by understanding students. Through #WinAtSocial, our gamified, peer-to-peer learning platform, we equip students, educators, and families to navigate their social world – in the classroom and beyond, online and offline – in healthy, high-character ways. Our unique, student-respected approach empowers and equips, rather than scares and restricts. We incorporate timely topics about social media, tech use, and current events that are impacting student well-being and learning. #WinAtSocial Lessons teach life skills for the modern day, capture student voice, and provide school leaders with actionable insights. Through these insights, students play an essential role in school efforts to support their own health, happiness, and future success as we enable high-impact teaching, meaningful family conversations, and a healthy school culture.