Recap of ‘The Science Behind Substance Abuse and Mental Health’

  • Tue Mar 9th, 2021 1:30am
  • Life
Dr. Jason Kilmer

The Coalition for Orcas Youth hosted Dr. Jason Kilmer Ph.D. of the University of Washington during their February community board meeting. Dr. Kilmer presented a webinar to 37 Orcas and San Juan community members titled Just Say Know: Understanding the Science behind Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

Those in attendance heard about how alcohol and cannabis affect sleep quality, what science tells us about cannabis and mental health, and the links between youth and young adult substance use and suicidal behaviors. The evening was interactive and educational, packed with information that is vital in supporting youth and preventing substance use in adolescence. When speaking about the correlation between substance use and suicide risk, Dr. Kilmer quoted colleague Laurie Davidson stating “alcohol prevention is suicide prevention”.

Dr. Kilmer shared data from the 2016 Healthy Youth Survey which demonstrated the relationship between youth cannabis use and their perception of parental and community norms toward cannabis. The statewide data showed that 10th grade students who reported that they thought their parents or the community believed it was wrong for them to use cannabis were significantly less likely to report having used cannabis. This highlights the fact that kids do listen to and are influenced by what their parents share with them about substance use. In addition, Kilmer emphasized that the messages that parents give their kids about alcohol has lasting impact on their behaviors as young adults. Kilmer shared studies that illustrate that college-age students who reported ‘low parental permissiveness’ regarding alcohol were less likely to engage in binge drinking than their peers who reported ‘high parental permissiveness’ regarding alcohol.

When asked for feedback, attendees highlighted how much they learned about cannabis myth-busting, how important it is to empower parents with accurate information, and the value of community education. Many commented about their lack of knowledge about the changes in cannabis potency over the past 20 years, and why it matters in our communities.

In closing his presentation Dr. Kilmer encouraged community members to consider what we know about stress, how substance use can affect these issues, and explore what our coalition and community can do to help young people avoid turning to substances to cope with difficulties.

A dedicated group of members from all sectors of our community meets the second Tuesday of every month, via zoom. The Coalition for Orcas Youth’s work is focused on reducing youth substance use, anxiety, and depression, and changing community norms and perceptions around substance use. If you are interested in learning more about this work, or would like to review slides of the presentation discussed in this article, please contact Alison Sanders at or Sarah Nichols