Why Marijuana Use in Teens Is Harmful

Marijuana,Drugs
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The stigma of marijuana use has declined since the early 2000s, with some states legalizing it for medical and even recreational uses. While it may not be as problematic for adult use as once believed, there are still plenty of good reasons to discourage pot smoking in teenagers.

First of all, it's illegal. And research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicates that childhood marijuana use can affect learning ability, attention, memory, coordination, balance, judgment, and decision-making.

Understand Why Teens Smoke Pot

It would be nice if there was one clear reason that children and young teenagers begin using marijuana, but there are actually many reasons teens choose to begin smoking weed. If you want to keep your children from smoking weed at an early age, you will have to be diligent in several areas of influence in their lives.

Pressure From Peers and Others

Children who have family members who smoke or express approval of marijuana are much more likely to begin using marijuana than those with no family involvement with the drug. Similarly, if they live in a neighborhood where they see drug activity going on, teens are less likely to express disapproval of drug use and become more likely to try drugs themselves.

Peer pressure to smoke pot remains a strong influence as well. If they have friends who are using marijuana, they are more likely to try it themselves. There's a tendency to adopt the attitude that "everyone is doing it" and it's part of the normal teenage experience. But research shows that the majority of teens make it all the way through high school without ever using marijuana.

Drug and alcohol use is often promoted in the music they download, and the videos they watch online. Those influences can be significant for young teens.

Self-Medicating and Escape

Many teens turn to marijuana in an effort to self-medicate, to make themselves feel better. They use marijuana to try to cope with depression, anxiety, and anger.

Teens will also begin using weed as an escape. Boredom is one of the main reasons some teens report that they use marijuana.

Children who have been physically or sexually abused are at greater risk than other teens for using marijuana and other drugs. They turn to drugs to escape the fear and pain of abuse.

Know the Risks of Weed

Some kids begin using marijuana because they don't understand the harm it can do to them while their brains and minds are still not fully developed. Or more often, they make a decision to begin using based on misinformation.

The marijuana legalization movement has played a role in sending a mixed message to young people. Teens might believe "if it's medicine, it must be safe" or "if it's legal, it must be OK."

In no state where marijuana has been made legal for medical or recreational use has it been made legal for anyone under that age of 21. Not even the most adamant legalization advocates propose making it legal for children to use marijuana.

If you are a parent who wants to protect your children from the dangers associated with early marijuana use, educate them with the facts so that they can make an informed decision about the risks. Marijuana use in adolescence can have these short-term consequences:

  • Difficulty learning and retaining information
  • Injury
  • Car accidents
  • Risky sexual behavior (leading to sexually transmitted disease)
  • Bronchitis (can become chronic if marijuana use continues)

Addiction

Addiction to marijuana is possible and it's even more likely if you begin to use the drug prior to age 18. In fact, marijuana use disorder accounts for nearly 50% of admission for those ages 12 to 17 years who are receiving substance use disorder treatment, according to the NIDA.

Poorer Quality of Life

Not only are students who misuse marijuana more likely than their non-using peers to drop out of high school, but they have been found to have lower salaries, less career success, and diminished life satisfaction later in life. This may be associated with altered brain development and cognitive impairment.

Mental Illness

Research has found that high doses of marijuana can result in panic attack or even acute psychosis, including hallucinations, paranoia, and disorganized thinking in those who already have severe mental illness. The risk of psychosis is even greater if someone has genetic risk factors. Some research has even linked chronic cannabis use in adolescents to an increased risk of schizophrenia.

Auto Accidents

When you use marijuana, your judgment, alertness, concentration, coordination, and reaction time are impaired. Driving while under the influence of marijuana can double a young driver’s risk of a car accident, and the risk is even higher if they consume even small amounts of alcohol.

Talk to Kids About Marijuana

It is important to talk to your teen about marijuana use, not only if you feel they may be smoking pot, but to help prevent future use. If you’ve found evidence of your teen using, share with your teen what you have found and express why you believe they are using drugs. Don’t be surprised if your teen gets defensive or denies it.

Pick the Right Time

If you think your teen is high, it’s best to wait until they are sober to have a conversation so they communicate properly. Instead of arranging a sit-down meeting, which might be met with resistance, try to make the talk more spontaneous and casual during a time when you’re both physically and mentally present.

Be Positive and Hold Judgment

If you judge or condemn your child, they will likely deny use and be less receptive to your message. Instead, think about when you were a teen and how you’d want your parents to talk to you with respect, understanding, and curiosity.

Stay Clear-Headed and Calm

While you want to get your point across, you don’t want to approach the conversation with anger or panic. This may prevent your teen from really listening to your concerns.

A Word From Verywell

If you think your child is misusing marijuana, help is available. Reach out to your pediatrician, who could talk to your child and/or recommend an addiction or mental health professional. Since it is possible to become addicted to marijuana, your child may need outpatient counseling or perhaps even residential treatment.

If your child is 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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