Cannabis workshop aims to promote drug safety

Photo of stickers from workshop
J Frank / The Mossy Log

In a free workshop on April 6, Michelle Burger ’26 shared educational knowledge about cannabis (commonly referred to as weed) in an hour-long slideshow, lecture and discussion, which covered topics including the racist history of the production, naming and regulation of weed, how it functions in the body and how to maximize or mitigate its effects. 

Burger has been interested in drugs and harm reduction for a long time. She began volunteering with the Alliance Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center in New York, and has been working with another harm reduction center, the Portland People’s Outreach Project, since she moved here. These organizations provide resources such as clean needles and pipes to drug users, as well as Narcan training, which can save the life of someone overdosing. The principle behind harm reduction is that making these tools accessible without shame or penalization reduces the likelihood of serious harm from drug use, and gives users a safe place where they can get help. They also provide essentials such as hygiene products, first aid, food and clothes.

At Lewis & Clark, Burger said she has noticed a lack of harm reduction resources and incomplete knowledge about weed among students. Burger estimates that 70-80% of students at LC currently smoke or have in the past and for many, weed is a large part of their social life and on-campus community. Yet, despite this prevalence, she was surprised how little the population knew about the drug they were using, even those who were regular users. 

She attributes this to a lack of care in the education system’s handling of education about drugs, especially weed. The drug is still illegal federally, and has only recently become legalized in Oregon.

“It’s getting more destigmatized, but people just don’t really know a lot, which I think I realized yesterday at the presentation,” Burger said. “I thought that people were going to know more. The first question I asked was ‘is weed a depressant?’ and a lot of people said yes. Which I was really not expecting.” 

While alcohol is a depressant, weed is a cannabinoid, which attaches to cannabinoid receptors in the brain normally filled by a natural chemical, producing psychoactive properties.

“In my middle and high school, I think we literally just talked about alcohol and tobacco and that was it,” Burger said. “If no one talks about weed, then all you know is what your friends say about weed. And the social aspects of weed are important, but there’s so much more to learn.”

Seeing this need for better drug education at LC, Burger approached Director of Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) Michelle Callahan with the idea of hosting a series of peer-led workshops to provide students with information about common drugs. Burger worked with Callahan for two or three months to organize and promote the event, as well as prepare a presentation and resources. Burger also designed and printed stickers promoting safe weed use and harm reduction to hand out for free. 

“You need to learn how it actually is affecting your body, the history that comes along with it, and how to use it safely if you’re going to, and I think that a lot of people don’t really know those things,” Burger said.

The presentation began with an overview of the history of weed. Weed is the same plant as hemp, and was originally an essential crop in the colonial United States, given its usefulness for manufacturing products such as cloth and paper. In fact, the first American flag was made out of hemp. At the same time, varieties of hemp with psychoactive properties were being bred. There were smoking parlors across the United States, and weed and stronger drugs were common ingredients, oftentimes unlabeled, in medicine. 

However, the tide changed against weed, especially prompted by the influx of Mexican immigrants after the Mexican civil war. The United States government villainized weed and renamed it to marijuana, capitalizing on the word’s Mexican associations to spread propaganda, claiming that it turned people evil and manufacturing sinister associations with Mexican and Black people. This stigmatization is only starting to be undone in recent years with the wave of legalization. 

Later, Burger discussed the different effects which weed can cause. These depend on factors such as individual physiology, the way weed is consumed and the strain. It is a common misconception that Sativa and Indica cause different highs. In fact, as more scientific research is done on weed following its legalization, it has been revealed that, though the two plants grow differently and appear different, there is no significant difference between the effects of the two. However, the different terpenes in different strains do cause different effects, and can also react with foods that also contain those terpenes. For this reason, sniffing black pepper can help to mellow a high. 

Burger also spoke about cannabis use disorder, also known as addiction. Those who start using young are more likely to develop an addiction, so if you are using weed as a college student, Burger advised to take breaks and to monitor your dependence. Burger also debunked several myths surrounding weed which have been sensationalized by the media: the ideas that weed is a gateway drug, and that there have been instances of weed laced with ketamine. Both are false. 

Many more important topics were discussed in the hour and a half long presentation, including the politics of drug tests, Oregon’s drug safety protection laws and how the term “420” was coined. If you are interested in the slideshow and resources from the workshop, including a reference table on the effects of mixing different drugs , you are encouraged to reach out to Burger, who would be happy to share them.

Burger plans to continue her series of talks next year, and hopes to help educate the community on more common drugs. She began with weed, given its popularity, but in the future hopes to cover ketamine and mushrooms, as well as possibly nicotine, alcohol and LSD. Callahan added that if other students have project ideas relating to on-campus health, they should approach her, and that she would love to work with them. Burger spoke highly of her experience collaborating with Callahan, saying that “Michelle is amazing.”

HPW also has a Healthy Hits newsletter which comes out every other week, answering anonymous student questions about topics like drugs and sex. Students can sign up for the newsletter and submit health questions using the QR code posted around campus, or by clicking the link in the online version of this story. 

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