Loreth Beswetherick Whistler is a young party town with a somewhat lackadaisical attitude toward alcohol and marijuana use but the kids growing up here are not a whole lot different from the rest of the province — or country — when it comes to drug use, both legal and illegal. Neither are students of other communities in the Sea to Sky corridor. These are the findings of a Sea to Sky Community Services Society survey of Grade 8 kids in the Howe Sound School District. The study was conducted by school-based drug and alcohol worker Heather Donaldson last fall primarily to see what affect an early Grade 7 start to secondary school may have on students when it comes to drug use behaviour. "There is no dramatic difference overall between the different schools in the corridor," said Donaldson. "I don’t see any big effect in the schools starting at Grade 7." She said marijuana use starts in Whistler at the Grade 7 age but in other communities, where high school starts at Grade 8, the drug use starts even earlier. "So obviously there are other factors." Donaldson said while she can’t point to one particular community as having a problem, there are a few blips on the local scene compared to provincial stats. The use of marijuana and excessive drinking is greater where the strongest pro-use attitude exists and this was the case for Grade 8 students in Whistler. Pemberton kids, on the other hand, were more likely to indulge in chewing tobacco or sniffing glue and other solvents, while students at both Pemberton and Howe Sound Secondary started using alcohol and marijuana earlier (age 10 or younger) than the provincial norm. Donaldson said the data collected on illegal drug use also points to some potential areas of concern. While less than five per cent of Grade 8 students in the corridor reported use of cocaine, speed, hallucinogens and LSD, nine per cent of Whistler secondary students said they had used crack and nine per cent of the students at Howe Sound Secondary said they had used LSD, which is higher than the provincial rate. As well, seven per cent of the Whistler kids surveyed indicated they had used hallucinogens, including ecstasy and magic mushrooms. Marijuana, interestingly, was not considered by many survey respondents to actually be an illegal drug. And in Whistler, student attitude was more accepting of marijuana than tobacco use. A total of 23 per cent of Grade 8 students in the corridor reported using marijuana. Donaldson said however, fretting about ‘illegal’ substance use among kids in the corridor should not cloud what she feels are the real issues of concern. "I feel, when you add it up, the use and abuse of alcohol and marijuana take a much bigger toll in the community." She said even though local substance use and abuse mirrors provincial norms, there is still cause for concern. "It’s in line with the province and with Canadian data but that’s not to say there are no problems. There are problems all over the province. When you look at the most common drugs being alcohol and marijuana, at that grade level in particular, I certainly see problems where accidents could happen. And, of course, if the use continues, people get dependent." She said parental and media attitudes of acceptance play a key role in the level of drug use and, while more kids in Whistler reported getting into trouble at home for using drugs (including alcohol) than in other communities, she didn’t know if this was necessarily a deterrent. Donaldson also said, while there is not much research, the combination of marijuana and sport likely plays a significant role in the number of ski hill injuries. She said the perception that marijuana helps athletes relax and aids performance is prevalent. She said however, marijuana still impairs the four key areas that affect motor performance: vision, balance, distance perception and reaction time, and this will affect performance. The survey will be used for program planning and classroom education. It will be repeated with Grade 8 students in future years to document trends and any improvements resulting from additional prevention programming. A second objective will be to compare students who have been in high school for one year with those who are just entering the secondary system. There was a 90 per cent response rate to the McCreary Institute survey, except for Brackendale which only saw 40 per cent.