Adolescence is a time of growth and exploration for many teens, so risk-taking is expected. While some risks are necessary for fostering independence, others can have lifelong adverse effects. Using marijuana is one example of how adolescent risk-taking behavior can lead to significant challenges later in life.
Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness recognizes that marijuana and teens can often go hand and hand. Marijuana usage can develop in adolescence and go into adulthood. Treating marijuana abuse early can help provide long-term recovery.
How Common is Marijuana Use in Teens?
Unfortunately, marijuana use among teens is at its highest in three decades. Teens are now more likely to use marijuana than tobacco. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 22% of high school students have used marijuana in the past 30 days. Approximately 37% of teens have tried marijuana at least once in their lifetime.
Why is Teen Marijuana Use on the Rise?
There are various reasons why marijuana abuse among young adults is on the rise. In the past decade, many states legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and older. While a young person’s use of marijuana remains illegal in all states, the new laws increase the availability of marijuana overall.
This availability makes the drug much more likely to land in the hands of teens. A national survey found that almost 60% of 10th graders and 75% of 12th graders say that obtaining marijuana is “fairly easy” or “very easy.”
How is Marijuana Used Among Teenagers?
Vaping, smoking using an electronic cigarette also plays a role in the increased use of marijuana in teens. Further data from NIDA also found that about 20% of high school seniors reported vaping marijuana within the last year. Marijuana can be vaped, and it is possible to disguise the telltale scent of marijuana by using flavored vaping products.
One-half of all teen marijuana users choose to smoke recreational marijuana instead of using other forms of the drug. In addition to smoking and vaping, marijuana can also be used by:
- Drinking marijuana-infused beverages
- Consuming “edibles” (baked goods containing marijuana)
- Applying oils to the skin for absorption into the body
Despite these other methods, smoking marijuana — rather than vaping — is still the preferred method for teens.
How does Marijuana Affect the Teenage Brain?
Teens may choose marijuana over other substances under the false belief that marijuana is natural and harmless. Unfortunately, the truth is that marijuana is dangerous for teenagers. Not only is marijuana addictive, but marijuana use adversely impacts a teenager’s developing brain.
During adolescence, the brain continues to grow and evolve. As the brain forms, external influences can permanently affect the brain.
THC’s Impact on the Brain
Tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, is the active ingredient that causes marijuana’s “high.” THC alters the frontal lobe of the adolescent brain, the area vital for decision-making, impulse control, and cognition.
The effects of THC on the teen brain may be both short-term, resulting in:
- Academic challenges
- Issues with memory
- Difficulty with concentration
- Higher risk for psychosis
- Heightened aggression
- Further use of other drugs
- Increased use of alcohol
- Unstable personal relationships
Long-Term Complications of Marijuana Use
While many adults found marijuana use relatively harmless in their youth, today’s marijuana is not the same. According to Harvard Health, the marijuana available today has a content of 20-25% THC.
In contrast, the marijuana available three decades ago contained only about 1-2% THC. Furthermore, concentrated cannabis products may have a THC content of 76%. The higher THC content in today’s marijuana makes the drug much more potent. Therefore, today’s marijuana is drastically different from what it used to be and can have lasting effects on the teen brain.
Continued use of marijuana can lead to long-term complications, such as:
- Breathing problems, such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cardiovascular issues, like high blood pressure
- Lung cancer
- Low tolerance for physical activities
- Reduced motivation or ambition
- Lower cognitive ability
- Worsening of underlying psychiatric illnesses, like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia
- Increased risk for suicide
- Stunted brain development
The overall impact of marijuana use on a teenager’s brain may vary and depends on a variety of factors:
- How often is marijuana used
- The age the teen used marijuana for the first time
- The amount of THC in the marijuana
- Whether the teen used other substances (like alcohol or tobacco) along with marijuana
Is Marijuana Dangerous for Teens?
Despite its reputation as a “safe” drug, marijuana is dangerous for adolescents. Teenage marijuana use increases the risk of mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Adolescence is a period of emotional upheaval, and adding marijuana use to the mix can exacerbate underlying mental health issues. For example, research into marijuana shows that schizophrenia is more common in teens who start using marijuana at an earlier age and use the drug more frequently.
Teens are at a higher risk than other age groups for motor vehicle accidents, with fatalities in this age group being almost three times as high. As new drivers, teens are especially vulnerable to driving risks such as driving impaired. Smoking weed diminishes the skills needed for safe driving, increases risk-taking behavior, and impairs judgment. Furthermore, marijuana compromises coordination and reaction time, both essential for safety.
The following are common signs of marijuana addiction, also known as cannabis use disorder (CUD):
- Using larger amounts of the drug to obtain the desired effect
- Experiencing cravings for marijuana
- Poor performance at school or extracurricular activities
- Unsuccessful attempts to quit despite the negative consequences of marijuana use
- Interpersonal problems
- Ignoring responsibilities or obligations
Teens are at a higher risk of developing a marijuana use disorder because the risk for the disorder rises the younger a person starts using the drug. If you’re worried your teen may be smoking marijuana, learn more about the signs of marijuana use in teens here.
Marijuana Treatment for Teens in Massachusetts
Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness (MCAW) offers a balanced combination of evidence-based therapies and holistic programs geared specifically for teenagers. Our experienced staff can provide your teenager with a compassionate and supportive environment, giving them the environment they need to succeed.
If you suspect your teenager is addicted to marijuana, early intervention is essential. Contact us to help your child recover from marijuana addiction. Let us start them on the path to a happy and healthy life.