Teen marijuana use is a serious issue that can have a significant negative impact on teenagers. You only have to drive along the freeway (especially in college towns) to see cannabis billboards everywhere. But the legalized marijuana used these days, including for recreational use, is an entirely different experience than the marijuana most parents experienced as young adults — if they used it at all.
So, what do parents need to know about teen cannabis use and what the research shows? Dr. Cassandra Simms, the residential psychiatrist at the Embark Behavioral Health short-term residential treatment center for boys in Benton, Tennessee, shared some insights.
Table of contents
- Common Names Used for Marijuana
- Statistics for Teens Smoking Weed
- How Marijuana Affects Teenagers
- Marijuana Is More Potent Than Ever Before
- What Should Parents Do To Prevent or Stop Their Teens From Using Marijuana?
- Marijuana Presents a Challenge for You, the Parent
Common Names Used for Marijuana
There are many different names for marijuana. Teens may be familiar with or use some or all of these terms. Common names for marijuana include:
Statistics for Teens Smoking Weed
How many teens use marijuana?
According to a study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 8.3% of eighth graders, 19.5% of 10th graders, and 30.7% of 12th graders used marijuana in 2022. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that in 2018, about 1 in 8 adolescents ages 12-17 (12.5%) had used marijuana in the past year.
How Marijuana Affects Teenagers
So, how does marijuana affect teenagers? Although some teens think smoking weed is safer than using other drugs or even drinking alcohol, it can affect multiple areas of their lives, including their health.
Short- and long-term effects of marijuana include:
- Poor judgment and decision making.
- Lack of coordination and balance.
- Relationship problems.
- Learning, memory, and concentration issues.
- Potential addiction.
- Loss of motivation.
- Increased risk of mental illness and mental health problems, such as depression and psychosis.
How marijuana affects the teenage brain
Research has shown that the effects of marijuana on the brain include altering executive functions such as planning, learning, studying, and even impulse control. This has been found to be especially true for teens who start smoking at an early age.
“The teen brain is still developing — teens’ attention and emotion centers are still developing,” Simms said.
According to an American Academy of Pediatrics clinical report, the adolescent brain does not fully develop until the early 20s, and studies of brain function in youths with heavy or regular use of cannabis show potential abnormalities across brain regions, including those affecting memory. In addition, the report stated, long-term marijuana use that began in adolescence showed that deficits in cognitive areas, including executive function (e.g., problem-solving skills) and processing speed, were not recovered by adulthood, even if cannabis use was discontinued.
And, according to a Canadian neuroscientist, the adolescent brain (still going through brain development) is more sensitive to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active chemical in marijuana that makes people high.
Therapeutic Advances in Pharmacology reports that marijuana is composed of over 400 chemicals — 60 of them classified as cannabinoids, with the potential to cause physical harm and marijuana addiction. The more concentrated it becomes, the more addictive it becomes, and the more harm it can cause, such as with marijuana use disorder.
Marijuana Is More Potent Than Ever Before
As a parent, you should keep in mind that today’s marijuana is far more potent than before. In the early 1980s, the THC content was, on average, 4%, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In 2018, the THC content of marijuana plants was over 15% because plants have been specially bred for higher THC content.
What does this mean for your teen?
“I didn’t see the effects of marijuana like this 17 years ago,” Simms said. “I see more kids that are paranoid and delusional, and with more dissociation or depersonalization complaints.”
According to Medical News Today, dissociation is a feeling of being detached from things, while depersonalization is a feeling of being detached from oneself and one’s own identity.
“The news doesn’t necessarily educate or talk about these issues, so parents and kids don’t even make the connection,” Simms said. She added that the higher-potency marijuana increases the chance of dependency, which leads to more biological, psychological, and social side effects.
What Should Parents Do To Prevent or Stop Their Teens From Using Marijuana?
If you suspect or know your teen is using marijuana, you may be worried about how to get your teenager to stop smoking pot. Following are some suggestions for how to help your child — and how their moods can help you identify if there really is an issue.
Simms recommended learning about modern cannabis. One resource to start with is the e-book “Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know” from NIDA.
“Parents need to educate themselves on the different forms of marijuana and how to find them because the various forms are smaller and harder to detect by smell, so they are harder to find at home and school,” Simms said.
“Once they know what to look for, parents need to sweep rooms every once in a while for signs of substance use.”
Pay attention to your teen’s moods
“As adults, we have to be careful about blaming everything on being a teenager and puberty,” Simms said, adding that there will be mood instability with adolescence.
“If you add anything extra, those moods are going to be intensified,” she said. “Kids tend to become more irritable, more aggressive, and more defiant and can even appear depressed with chronic marijuana use.”
Simms said behaviors may appear more sneaky to the point where parents notice money and personal belongings start to disappear, and behaviors become more reckless.
Do not promote marijuana use as a way to self-medicate for ADHD, depression, or anxiety
“Some use that as a reason,” Simms said regarding using marijuana to address focus and mental health issues, “but I also think that’s a form of manipulation to get parents to say it’s OK. ‘Using marijuana helps me sleep.’ ‘It helps me not be sad.’ ‘It helps me not be anxious.’
“Marijuana’s not the first line of treatment in these cases. There are legal, safer ways to treat those issues that don’t possibly lead to other issues.”
Seek treatment for marijuana use or substance use disorder
If your teen is using marijuana and needs help, Simms recommended first looking for a good outpatient therapist who specializes in addictive behaviors, such as cannabis use disorder, to provide teen marijuana use treatment.
“If they have issues such as anxiety, consider getting a child or adolescent psychiatrist or a pediatrician on board,” Simms said, “because if they’re self-medicating and you don’t treat the underlying issues, then it’s more difficult for our youths to stop.”
Simms said an individual therapist and medication management may be deemed necessary.
Treatment options for marijuana use
If your teen needs a stronger drug use treatment program, options include an intensive outpatient program (IOP). If their behaviors and use become more intensified and problematic even while getting therapy — especially if the drug use starts affecting their functioning and they have issues such as skipping school or legal charges — an inpatient program for drug use is recommended, such as short-term residential treatment.
“A 30-day program where they can live and breathe treatment and go through detox safely while not having any exposure to drugs or drug use can be helpful,” Simms said.
Once your teen completes an inpatient program, they will need to re-enter life and establish new patterns gradually. An IOP could be an option during that time. You should strive to ensure your teen is compliant with their individual therapist and medication management after they’ve been released from teen marijuana treatment.
Marijuana Presents a Challenge for You, the Parent
Considering the negative short- and long-term effects of marijuana use for teenagers, it’s imperative you talk to your child about cannabis and keep an eye out for signs they’re using it. If you suspect teen marijuana use — or any other drug use — get them help quickly.
Embark is the most trusted name in teen and young adult mental health treatment. We’re driven to find the help your family needs. If you’re looking for support, contact us today!