Statistics on Teen Marijuana Use

Two teens smoking a joint

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According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 48 million Americans over the age of 12 used marijuana in the last year, making marijuana the most common illicit drug used in the United States.

Marijuana is also surprisingly available to youths, even in middle school. In 2019, nearly one-third of 8th graders said it would be "fairly easy" or "very easy" for them to get marijuana. Nearly 60% of 10th graders and over three-quarters of 12th graders said the same.

The marijuana legalization movement has played a role in sending mixed messages to young people that marijuana is safe because "it's medicine," or "it's legal," and it's up to parents to help set things straight. By understanding the risk, dangers, facts, and statistics on teen marijuana use, you can better address the issue with your teen.

Teen Marijuana Use Statistics

While a lengthy lecture isn't likely to be helpful, sharing a few marijuana statistics could educate your child about the risks and dangers. Here are a few statistics on teen marijuana use that might make your teen think twice about using pot:

  • People who start marijuana in adolescence are more likely to experience early-onset psychosis. In general, the heavier the usage, the more severe the symptoms. (Although the direction of causation is still unclear, a common theory is that marijuana can exacerbate pre-existing vulnerability to psychosis, "tipping the scales" for people who otherwise wouldn't have developed symptoms.)
  • Marijuana smoke contains 50% to 75% more of certain cancer-causing substances than cigarette smoke does. Although evidence is mixed, some smaller studies suggest heavy marijuana usage could increase the risk of lung cancer.
  • Individuals who begin using marijuana before age 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.
  • Students who smoke marijuana are more likely than their non-using peers to get poor grades and drop out of high school.
  • Driving while under the influence of marijuana can double the risk of a car accident in young drivers, and the risk is even higher when small amounts of alcohol are also consumed.
  • Between 2017 and 2020, the rates of high school seniors vaping marijuana more than doubled, with over a fifth of high school seniors reporting vaping marijuana in the past year. Roughly 8% of eighth graders also reported vaping marijuana at least once in the past year.

Marijuana Myths and Facts

There are many rumors floating around marijuana use in teens. Here are some of the most popular myths, along with the facts.

Myth: Marijuana Is Not Addictive

About one in six people who start using marijuana as a teen become addicted. Between 25% to 50% of those who use it every day become addicted to marijuana. As with most addictive substances and behaviors, the rewarding effects of marijuana (the "marijuana high") are central to it being addictive. Similar to other drugs, people can experience symptoms of marijuana withdrawal when they don't have access to the drug or choose not to use it, often prompting them to use again for symptom relief.

Myth: Marijuana Doesn't Affect Driving

It is the most common illicit drug found in drivers who die in accidents (around 14% of drivers), sometimes in combination with alcohol or other drugs. Researchers have found that marijuana use affects the driver's concentration and ability to perceive time and distance, which may lead to poor speed control, drowsiness, distraction, and the inability to read road signs accurately.

Myth: Marijuana Is Legal

Recreational marijuana use is legal in 17 states—but for adults 21 and older, not for teens. Not even the most adamant legalization advocates propose making it legal for children to use marijuana. Laws for medical marijuana vary from state to state, but in most states, medical marijuana use for children or teens is only given for “qualifying medical conditions."

Myth: Marijuana Is Harmless

Marijuana use among teens can be particularly problematic because it can impact the following:

  • Attention
  • Decision-making
  • Inhibition and impulse control
  • Verbal fluency
  • Learning ability
  • Memory

One 2012 study found that participants who had begun persistent cannabis use in their teens lost an average of eight IQ points (even after controlling for years of education).

Marijuana use may also precede depression. According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, cannabis use during the teen years is linked to higher rates of major depression as well as suicidal thoughts later in life.

When teens vape marijuana, they put both their brains and lungs at risk. As of February 18, 2020, there have been 2,807 cases of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) across the U.S. Most of the EVALI cases have been linked to devices containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient in cannabis that causes the high.

Talk to Your Teen About Marijuana

Don't wait for your teen to bring up the subject of marijuana. Start a conversation today. Find out what your teen knows already and be prepared to share the facts.

Hold ongoing conversations about the dangers of marijuana use. Discuss changes in the law or bring up the subject when there are stories about marijuana in the news.

Take steps to build credibility so your teen will value what you have to say. Discuss the dangers of using marijuana and make sure your teen fully understands the risks.

A Word From Verywell

Find out what your teen is hearing from other sources too. Friends, social media, and other websites often promote marijuana, and they may give your teen false information about drugs. It's important for you to be able to provide factual information.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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