First Federal Agency Blog For Teens Features Science!

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | July 14, 2009 2:26 pm

The National Institute of Drug Abuse has launched the first federal agency blog written for teens… and with the focus on science, it sounds very cool!


The Sara Bellum Blog is written by a team of NIDA scientists, science writers, and public health analysts of all ages. We connect you with the latest scientific research and news, so you can use that info to make healthy, smart decisions.

Sometimes it can be hard to know where to go for the truth about drugs. Here at NIDA, we learn from science—not from rumors or gossip. We have thousands of researchers around the world who study drug addiction and come up with ways to help people recover and live healthy lives. Every day, scientists and physicians discover more about how drugs affect your brain and body.

You owe it to yourself to ask the right questions, look for the facts, and think hard about what you find out and what it means for you. We’re here to help you do that.

Check out the Sara Bellum Blog here

[H/T Jessica]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Announcements, Culture, Education

Comments (23)

Links to this Post

  1. Why Are Cigarettes So Addictive | Chemical Agents | July 18, 2009
  1. Ok, so if their focus is really on the science, are they going to admit that pot is safer than alcohol and should not be legally banned? The science clearly says that alcohol is much more addictive and dangerous than pot. Yet the former flows freely while the latter is illegal and taboo. This is really illogical. Any discussion of the science of addiction should make this clear. Does the NIDA have the courage to do this? Let’s see if they really have a commitment to science.

  2. Technogeek

    I fail to see how anything the NIDA says can be even remotely considered “science”.

    Daniel Wirth has more credibility.

  3. Curious, those are good questions. But I want to clarify something that confuses a lot of people: NIDA doesn’t make federal drug policy decisions, like whether or not pot should be legal. NIDA is specifically mandated to support studies on drug abuse and addiction, with a focus on understanding addiction, preventing it, and treating it. So it really is a *science* agency, and it has specific instructions from Congress on what science it can fund.

    Those of us involved in the blog wanted to focus strictly on the science, because that’s what NIDA can really speak to knowledgeably and effectively. The goal of this blog is to make the science *as transparent as possible,* so it’s not just about telling kids what to do – it’s about telling them what we know, and how we know it, and why science matters. That’s all. :)

  4. Paul


    NIDA is still funded by the government. If you read the marijuana section, you discover a good bit of loaded language. I also found it amusing that the category from the frontpage for marijuana is “marijuana”, but if you want to find the negative information about cigarettes/tobacco you need to look for “nicotine”. That doesn’t seen to be an effective way to get teenagers to click that link and see the risks. Alcohol is easier to find, but they don’t actually give you any negatives about alcohol. They link to external sites.

    Funny, it doesn’t look like their focus is on following the science and telling kids the dangers of the drugs the government makes money off them using. I’m not really the conspiracy type, but the site is pretty blatant.

  5. Exactly. NIDA should focus on the science, and the science clearly indicates that pot is not at all the dangerous and addictive substance it’s made out to be, especially when it’s compared to alcohol. Does NIDA have the conviction and transperancy to explicitly say this?

  6. Paul,

    “NIDA is still funded by the government.”

    Um. . . I think that was what I just said, wasn’t it? :) Every scientist funded by NSF, NIH, DOE, or DoD is funded by the government. Which is virtually every scientist in this country, at some point or another in their careers. I am always confused why this is sometimes an insult, and sometimes not.

    I do recommend you send feedback and suggestions on how to better organize the teen website to NIDA. There are always improvements to be made. Re: alcohol, though, for now, Congress has given NIAAA primary responsibility for handling that topic. There are currently discussions to merge NIAAA and NIDA. If that happens I’m sure there will be much better integration of the two topics on the new merged Institute’s website.

  7. The science clearly says that alcohol is much more addictive … than pot.

    False*. Unless you would care to clarify what you mean by “more” and how your definition is meaningful.

    *One useful definition is the conditional probability of dependence (e.g., percentage of those that meet diagnostic criteria for substance dependence within the population that use that substance) . Specific data on the conditional probability of dependence are scanty but where available support at best a 3-4% dependence rate for alcohol and a 6-9% dependence rate for cannabis. You can knock these around a bit depending on what you use as the denominator (i.e., what constitutes the using population) but the two-fold ratio holds up pretty consistently. See this post for more detail

  8. Paul

    Curious Wavefunction,

    Here are the questions in the Q/A section of their marijuana pamphlet. Basing your answers on the fact that it’s a government agency putting the information together, see if you can get 100% of the answers right.

    # What is marijuana? Are there different kinds?
    # How is marijuana used?
    # How long does marijuana stay in the user’s body?
    # How many teens smoke marijuana?
    # Why do young people use marijuana?
    # What happens if you smoke marijuana?
    # What are the short-term effects of marijuana use?
    # Does marijuana affect school, sports, or other activities?
    # What are the long-term effects of marijuana use?
    # Does marijuana lead to the use of other drugs?
    # How can you tell if someone has been using marijuana?
    # Is marijuana sometimes used as a medicine?
    # How does marijuana affect driving?
    # If a woman is pregnant and smokes it, will marijuana hurt the baby?
    # What does marijuana do to the brain?
    # Can people become addicted to marijuana?
    # What if a person wants to quit using the drug?

    At least when you hit their nicotine section then check the linked “infofacts”, they focus on science e.g. toxicity, cancer and addiction, even if they use softer, friendlier language than they do for the hard drugs. I tried checking a few different drugs (I don’t want to waste too much time) and that I saw, marijuana was the only one that had a teen-friendly FAQ presentation that presents clear and easy “facts” that is more likely to get a teen’s attention and get them reading. The other ones seem rather boring and clinical.

  9. Paul, Waveform et alia. For additional reading on the nature of the acute withdrawal from cannabis and tobacco smoking you might as well start here.

    At least when you are throwing around generalities, you should get specific. Withdrawal is not equal to dependence but it is part of the package.

    *Disclaimer for any of Sheril’s readers not familiar with me. My standard line is that you should assume that I have in the past, do currently or will in the future hold or seek to hold NIDA and/or other NIH IC funding to conduct research on recreationally abused drugs. (Which makes me part of your grand conspiracy to oppress the poor cannabis fans. :-))

  10. Here are a few questions; How do the withdrawal symptoms for alcohol addiction compare to those of pot addiction? Also, how does the risk of death or serious injury during events such as driving after pot consumption compare to that after alcohol consumption? Would you agree that the dangers of pot addiction are quite exaggerated compared to those of alcohol addiction? Also, what serious diseases does excessive pot addiction cause compared to excessive alcohol consumption? Plus, why is pot in Schedule 1 along with heroin and cocaine? In what way is it sensible to regard these substances as equivalent in addiction potential and proclivity for causing harm to oneself or others? I guess the fundamental question is; why would you ban pot but not ban alcohol?

  11. Curious,

    NIDA is, of course, a science and not a policy organization. If you wish to explore comparative harms and what influence they do and do not have on public policy why would expect you NIDA to be interested in this? Sheril may be in policy but NIDA is not. by law if I am not mistaken, given the prohibitions against US gov agencies from lobbying Congress.

    The interest of the scientific community would be to identify possible harms of drugs of abuse as clearly as possible. “Exaggerated” is in the mind of the beholder. Personally I get all my information from the scientific literature so it is not “exaggerated”. Do I think the NIDA websites get the facts more or less right? sure. More or less. Are you entirely sure you are not conflating mainstream media and politician blather with the activities of NIDA and the scientific communities?

    Another question. If you compare the NIAAA informational sites to those of NIDA is the one more “exaggerated” than the other?

  12. I think part of the problem is the perception that a govt-sponsored blog is THE MAN (or some such thing). For better or worse, though, being OF the power structure does not make you inherently wrong.

    I’ve got nothing against people drinking, toking, whatever in a moral sense, but these things have real health effects, and to deny this is just friggin stupid. If you like to get high, fine, whatever, but don’t pretend it’s good for you.

  13. Paul

    “I’ve got nothing against people drinking, toking, whatever in a moral sense, but these things have real health effects, and to deny this is just friggin stupid. If you like to get high, fine, whatever, but don’t pretend it’s good for you.”

    My main critique was that the presentation between drug types seemed biased. “Nicotine” isn’t likely to catch a kid’s eye. They smoke cigarettes, not “nicotine” (I realize it’s not as precise a term, but it’s the term used most generally). DrugMoney’s mention that NIAAA handling alcohol awareness mostly assuages that complaint, although I would think it’s possible for them to present some of the information on-site with proper attribution. It’s perfectly possible that as of yet the main focus is to keep kids from using marijuana, but the reason is more hype than substance (yes, I recognize there are risks to marijuana consumption). There is not enough focus on the dangers of alcohol and cigarettes, which is hopefully just growing pains for the site.

    I’ve known many people with major issues with alcohol and tobacco, so I tend to be overly sensitive when they’re presented as “has health risks, but at least it’s not weed”. That’s the subtle impression I got from the NIDA site, based on the manner of information presentation. I’ll gladly admit that I could just be overly sensitive. But the disparity in presentation (marijuana has the list to guide questions and answers to lead one to conclude “wow, that’s bad, I should stay away” as opposed to nicotine’s long, dry, clinical list that few teens would have the motivation to read through) sets off warning bells in my head.

  14. Ana

    How about they include some discussion of how drugs affect adolescents differently than adults? That might actually get someone’s attention.

  15. Onkel Bob

    I think part of the problem is the perception that a govt-sponsored blog is THE MAN (or some such thing). For better or worse, though, being OF the power structure does not make you inherently wrong.

    That and the site’s design is as modern as linotype. The data are the same, the presentation uses the same engaging dialog (Was tun Sie hier? Geben Sie mir irhen Ausweiss, schnell!) and it is just soooo steampunk. Yeah, I can just see teens flocking to that blog to share their experiences and listen to the schiesserkopfs that foolishly give DM our tax dollars. When’s the podcast coming out?

  16. PalMD


    Minutiae. Rhetorical drivel. Completely avoiding the real point, that folks who like substances don’t like to admit that they may be harming themselves.

  17. Paul

    “Minutiae. Rhetorical drivel. Completely avoiding the real point, that folks who like substances don’t like to admit that they may be harming themselves.”

    I didn’t disagree with that. I’m complaining that they are not arguing as effectively about the harms of cigarettes and alcohol as they do for marijuana, and this seems to be pretty damn prevalent in government funded information. I’ve dealt with people addicted to cigarettes and alcohol since early childhood (since I hit the point of sentience, really), and teens really need to get the dangers. So why does nicotine get a clinical description teens will just gloss over, where you can tell they went out of their way to consult with more proficient communicators for the marijuana page? I want to see alcohol/cigarettes at least raised to the same prominence as weed. Are you saying marijuana is overall more dangerous than cigarettes and/or alcohol? I don’t think you can argue that based on the literature, although perhaps DM can correct me.

    I don’t use any of the drugs in question. I don’t have a horse in this race. I really don’t appreciate the implication that I’m trying to avoid helping addicts.

  18. Haven’t looked around the entire site, but found THIS too funny not to share…

    The short-term effects of marijuana include:

    * problems with memory and learning
    * distorted perception (sights, sounds, time, touch)
    * distorted perception (sights, sounds, time, touch)
    * distorted perception (sights, sounds, time, touch)
    * increased heart rate

    Bong hits and blog posts don’t mix! 😉

    I’m all for reality-based education about those things that are taboo subjects in this country (drugs, sex, religion) and can play hell with the mental and physical well-being of kids if they’re introduced too soon and not given the full story. They’re a tough crowd to attract and KEEP. Good luck.

  19. PalMD



    Yeah, I’d like to see a gov’t website with real sex and contraceptive info. I won’t hold my, er, breath.

  20. Isabel

    “We connect you with the latest scientific research”

    What scientific research? Where are the citations? references? anything?

    For example it is impossible to trace back references to cannabis being implicated in cancer and long-term brain damage, being a gateway drug etc.

    If you follow the ones given you just fall into an endless web of propaganda publications.

    How is this teaching kids about science?

  21. Isabel

    “e it is impossible to trace back references to cannabis being implicated in cancer and long-term brain damage, being a gateway drug etc.”

    Can anyone help me find these references from the “marijuana” (god I hate that term) section of this ridiculous “scientific” website?

    I haven’t kept up with Cannabis research in over a decade, but I seem to remember all three of these being disproven, or at least shown to be bonus assertions.

    Damn liars!

  22. Isabel

    I meant ‘Bogus’ of course!

    But bonus does fit in a way, as the assertions are not based on anything scientific, just added to spice up the website.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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