SUMMIT COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – Gray Matters, in partnership with Summit County health officials, have created a new statewide campaign intended to provide parents and mentors a resource to start a conversation with teens about underage marijuana misuse and the harm it can cause to the brain.

The program was developed by a coalition of the state’s county health departments, including the Summit County Health Department’s prevention team, as well as medical marijuana advocates and youth groups.

Gray Matters, is, in fact, named after the tissue in the brain that helps complete daily functions. The program aims to not “get into the politics of weed,” but give parents a tool that relies on science and research to help educate teens on the possible dangers that misuse can have on their development.

The Health Department’s prevention coordinator, Kathy Day, states, “We have to protect our kids’ brains.”

According to the department, research shows the majority of youth trust their parents, so Gray Matters focuses on educating adults and providing them with resources to talk to teens about the damage misusing marijuana can have on the their developing bodies.

The program provides parents with a “talk kit” that helps them address controversial subjects with their kids. The marijuana talk kit includes information about the potential short and long-term effects of using marijuana, reasons why some teens may start using it and offers tips for starting a conversation.

It includes advice about words to avoid, as well as prompts for different situations. The kit pushes the idea of utilizing facts, and encourages parents to be transparent about where their information comes from.

Pamela Bello, the director of behavioral health prevention, says, “We want this campaign to be for everyone, all opinions, working together on this message.” Day agrees by pointing out, “It’s the middle ground. It looks at both sides, but there’s a lot of research behind it.”

Bello and Day say that, regardless of the moral arguments behind legalizing marijuana, it’s “important for parents and teens to understand how underage misuse affects development.”

The risks include, “increased likelihood of depression, difficulty making good decisions and poor school performance.” Day also says that frequent marijuana use can also trigger mental illnesses and impair adolescents’ ability to learn skills that help manage negative emotions like stress.

The Health Department’s prevention team says that underage misuse is a big problem in Summit County, pointing out that weed is the first drug most teens experiment with, and that it’s often easier to find than alcohol.

Teenage marijuana use has increased across the country, in fact, as more states legalize medicinal and recreational weed, according to Day.

In some cases, parents are even supplying it, and Day says that many adults may not realize how much weed has changed since the 1960s.

“It’s much stronger than it used to be and it’s quite different than some of these parents might be used to,” she said. “It’s like comparing pouring an ounce of alcohol in a cup of water and drinking it versus drinking a shot – it’s more concentrated. But no matter how it’s consumed, it can affect the brain.”

The Health Department staff hopes that the program’s launch will bring a resource to families as they navigate a new era of marijuana.

During the month of April, the prevention team anticipates a social media campaign to help spread the word about Gray Matters.

“Our main message is that we want parents to make these decisions with their teens,” Bello says. “Parents may think their teens aren’t listening, yet they’re the most influential individuals in their lives.”

For more information on Gray Matters, click here.