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Marijuana Use in Teens – What are the Signs?

In an increasingly complex world, our adolescents face numerous challenges - one of the most pervasive is substance abuse. As the most commonly used illicit drug among teenagers, marijuana use is particularly concerning, given its potential to derail our young people's physical, emotional, and mental wellness. 

According to a 2019 survey, 37% of U.S. high school students reported using marijuana at least once, while 22% admitted using it in the past 30 days. These statistics highlight the widespread and potentially habitual use of marijuana among American teens.

Knowledge and understanding are fundamental at Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness (MCAW). In this article, we aim to guide parents and guardians on identifying signs of marijuana use in adolescence and provide advice on approaching such situations.

Signs of Marijuana Use in Adolescents

Recognizing the signs of marijuana use in adolescents is fundamental to helping them navigate these potentially treacherous waters. Adolescence is a critical stage of development, particularly for the brain, making it a vulnerable period for introducing substances like marijuana. Understanding the profound impact of marijuana during this stage is essential in addressing its use.

Marijuana's active compound, THC, interacts with the brain's endocannabinoid system, which is involved in our ability to learn, make decisions, and control our impulses. In the adolescent brain, this system is still developing, making it more susceptible to the effects of marijuana. Prolonged use can hinder the natural development process, leading to potential cognitive and emotional difficulties in both the short and long term.

The signs of marijuana use in adolescents can be broad and varied, reflecting the drug's extensive impact on their physical, emotional, and behavioral health. Some teens may exhibit only subtle changes, while others display more overt signs. Either way, it's vital to remain observant and responsive to these indicators, as early detection and intervention can make a significant difference in a teen's life trajectory.

These are possible signs, not guarantees, and should be approached with care, understanding, and a readiness to support your adolescent through any challenges they might face.

Visible Signs

Visible changes often accompany marijuana use in teens. You may notice red, bloodshot eyes, or an unexpected surge in appetite, particularly for high-calorie foods—a symptom famously known as "the munchies." Marijuana use can lead to decreased physical coordination and slower reaction times. An unfamiliar smell on their clothing or breath might also indicate use. Teens may also show diminished interest in personal grooming and hygiene.

Additionally, marijuana can influence a teen’s performance at school. Watch for falling grades, reduced enthusiasm for school activities, and irregular attendance, which may signal underlying issues.

Emotional Signs

Alongside the physical changes, marijuana use can significantly alter a teenager's emotional landscape. These alterations might include sudden mood swings, increased anxiety, or paranoia. If your teenager has had a drastic shift in personality, behavior, or peer group, this could indicate marijuana use.

Moreover, marijuana can induce lethargy and a lack of motivation, which, in turn, affects concentration. This lack of focus can further undermine academic performance. Unexplained and spontaneous laughter, excessive cheerfulness, or a far-off look can also be signs of marijuana use.

Marijuana-Related Accessories

Identifying marijuana use in teenagers also involves recognizing marijuana-related paraphernalia. Items like rolling papers, pipes, bongs, and grinders are every day. Homemade smoking devices or small plastic bags with marijuana residue might be found. Containers used for hiding the drug are also standard.

If you find products designed to mask the smell of marijuana, like incense, room deodorizers, or body sprays, these, too, can indicate marijuana use.

How to React if Your Child is Using Marijuana

Dealing with a situation where your child is using marijuana can be challenging and emotionally taxing. Sometimes, punishment might seem like the immediate answer, but this approach can risk distancing your teen further. Here's how you can navigate this problematic scenario:

  • Educate yourself: Understanding marijuana and its effects is critical. This helps you dispel myths and misconceptions, setting the foundation for a clear and grounded conversation with your teen.
  • Prioritize communication: It's vital to encourage your teen to talk about marijuana use. They should feel safe from judgment or punishment during this dialogue. Understanding their experiences and expressing your concerns calmly and compassionately is vital.
  • Highlight the potential risks: Discuss the risks and long-term consequences of marijuana use. Focus on how it could negatively impact their academic performance, athletic abilities, and mental health.
  • Reach out for professional assistance when necessary: Therapists, school counselors, or substance abuse professionals can provide invaluable guidance to help your child navigate this challenging period.

Long-Term Effects of Marijuana Use in Teens

Continued marijuana consumption during adolescence can have numerous long-lasting effects extending into adulthood. These effects range from physical health issues to mental and cognitive impairments, including:

  • Development of Cannabis Use Disorder: Chronic marijuana use can lead to a dependence on the substance, known as Cannabis Use Disorder. This condition can make it difficult for individuals to quit or control their use, despite adverse impacts on their lives.
  • Respiratory Issues: Similar to the effects of cigarette smoking, regular marijuana use can cause respiratory problems. These may include persistent coughing, wheezing, reduced physical activity due to breathlessness, and an increased susceptibility to lung infections and possibly lung cancer.
  • A Decline in Academic or Occupational Performance: Persistent marijuana use can lead to decreased motivation and interest, directly impacting a teen's academic or occupational performance. This can limit their future opportunities and potential for success.
  • Decreased Cognitive Abilities: Chronic marijuana use during adolescence, a critical period for brain development, can lead to diminished cognitive abilities. This may manifest as problems with memory, learning, attention, and decision-making.
  • Elevated Risk of Mental Health Disorders: Regular marijuana use can increase the risk of developing mental health disorders. These may include schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety disorders. Other possible emotional effects include heightened anger, irritability, and mood swings.
  • Increased Likelihood of Suicidal Ideation: Research suggests that marijuana use in adolescence can increase the likelihood of experiencing suicidal thoughts, particularly in individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions.

Understanding these potential long-term consequences of marijuana use is crucial for prevention and early intervention efforts. These effects underscore the importance of addressing marijuana use in teens and providing the necessary support to help them make healthier choices.

Substance Abuse Treatment for Adolescents - MCAW

At MCAW, we're dedicated to helping adolescents thrive amidst challenges, including substance abuse. Our team of professionals is trained to work with adolescents, guiding them through recovery while ensuring their emotional and mental well-being.

We're committed to providing a safe, nurturing environment where teens can learn, grow, and recover. Our substance abuse treatment programs are tailored to each individual's needs, focusing on recovery, building resilience, and empowering teens to make healthier choices.

Addressing marijuana use in teens is complex, but recognizing the signs and responding proactively can make a significant difference. We can guide our adolescents toward healthier, brighter futures with open communication, steadfast support, and the right resources.