4/20 event that's weed-free? Catch some Natural Highs

The 4/20 event taking place at the University of Colorado at Boulder at 4:20 p.m. has been aptly described as "an orgasm of cannabis consumption."

But even as the smoke from that bash is inspiring a lot more flights than have taken off in Europe over the past week, a smaller gathering not far away will recognize 4/20 in an unusual way -- without marijuana. From 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., Natural Highs, a sober-teens group, is holding a free get-together at September High School in Boulder; visit the Natural Highs website for details.

"The intention of our event is to support teens who want to remain clean and sober on this day," says Avani Dilger, a substance-abuse counselor who founded Natural Highs. "So they can have community, they can have fun in different ways, and they don't feel peer pressure to be part of the other 4/20 event."

Natural Highs is in its fourth year. The project "got developed based on the feedback of students," Dilger notes. "We wanted to have an interesting approach to substance-abuse prevention, based on their voices, for what works and what's helpful for kids to remain clean and sober. So we integrated traditional and alternative approaches."

For instance, Dilger continues, "the students in the program learn about cutting-edge brain chemistry and how drugs and alcohol affect them. But they also learn about meditation, body/mind techniques and healthy rituals. And we don't tell them not to do drugs. We leave that decision up to them."

At September High, Natural Highs is presented as an after-school program open to any high school student in Boulder. In addition, it's a once-a-week part of the curriculum at New Vista High School, Boulder Prep and Shining Mountain Waldorf School -- a facility that appeared in the news recently when 52-year-old Catharine Pierce decided to garden topless nearby.

Most anti-drug programs in school are about as popular as extra calculus homework. But Natural Highs has gotten more than its share of thumbs-ups.

"We do questionnaires at the end of workshops, and over 90 percent of the students rate the class as very good or excellent, and over 80 percent say they either decreased their substance use or decided not to use substances after the class," Dilger points out.

The teens of Natural Highs regularly stage events -- among them an art show in February that drew around 250 people and "Final Friday" happenings that have included a "sober rave" and a "holistic healing night" during which, according to the website, "we drank nourishing tea, learned about the benefits of a sugar-free lifestyle, smelled the sweet scents of aromatherapy oils, received acupuncture and Reiki healing sessions, learned about holistic healing practices, and watched a documentary about new paradigms in healing and medicine."

Still, arguably the most attention-getting of the Natural Highs events take place on 4/20. The first one, held three years ago, only attracted about twenty teens, but by last year, around a hundred showed up -- and Dilger thinks it's possible that the number will be twice that large this afternoon.

What's on tap? "We will do a philosophy circle, a format we use in the program, where we have a dialogue on existential questions," she says. Other stuff sounds more intriguing, including "free massage, free acupuncture, free Reiki treatments, a Yerba Mate bar, with drinks made out of an herb from Argentina that's really healthy, a drum circle" and a lot more.

"All of these activities have been designed by kids that are part of the Natural Highs action group," Dilger says, "and last year was very fun, very inspired. At the end of the day, we did a round in the philosophy circle, and everyone talked about how happy they were, because they felt so healthy and not hung over."

No smoker's coughs, either.