Teens and Marijuana: What Every Parent Needs To Know

By: Other | June 10, 2015

Written by Karin Thebus, Psy.D.

With marijuana use on the rise in the United States, and an increase in potency of the drug, addiction specialists are seeing more daily/heavy use of marijuana among teens, according to an expert from Columbia University Medical School.

A report released last year by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime concluded marijuana use is increasing in the United States as Americans change their attitude about the drug’s risks. The report found the number of Americans ages 12 or older who used marijuana at least once in the previous year increased to 12.1 percent in 2012, from 10.3 percent in 2008.

Based on recent changes in the law in some states and an apparent relaxed view of the risks of marijuana use, parents may be more concerned than ever that their teen may be using this drug. Open communication between teens and parents is always important. But, in order to have an educated discussion with your teen about drugs, parents need to know what the risks are.

Here is a list of some concerns and realities for parents to be aware:

1. Marijuana is not a harmless drug. The brain is looking for the path of least resistance to feel good. Just like alcohol, marijuana used recreationally affects good decision making and reaction times. Because the drug is not regulated, you may not be able to determine what you are really smoking.

2. Today’s marijuana is different from marijuana of even a decade ago. Current THC concentrations in marijuana averaged 15%, compared to around 4% in the 1980s. Some strands may contain as much as 30% THC.

3. Marijuana directly affects the brain. Researchers have learned that smoking marijuana impairs the ability of teens to concentrate and retain information during peak learning years. This is especially important, as the teen’s brain is still developing.

4. Yes, it is addictive. Just like any substance used to alter consciousness, marijuana becomes a necessary part of brain function when used frequently. Since marijuana affects people differently, some don’t develop a dependence or addiction to marijuana — and some do. Approximately  1 in 6 teens who use marijuana at least once increase their risk for addiction.

5. It is not safer to smoke marijuana than it is to smoke cigarettes. There are the same long term health hazards with marijuana as cigarettes, and maybe even more. In addition, there currently is limited regulation on potency or additives that may cause damage.

As a specialist with drug and alcohol-related issues, I am concerned with the relaxed attitude that many people have regarding the use of marijuana, especially for teens. For example, I have had many teens tell me, “Pot is natural; I don’t even consider it a drug.”

My clients expect me to know the dangers and are not surprised when I tell them that I believe marijuana is detrimental to optimal living. But what about parents discussing why they believe it is not a good idea to ingest this drug? No longer will the response of “it’s illegal” be sufficient to explain their concerns. For many parents, an honest discussion about drug use is a difficult subject to broach because they may not be as well versed in the risks. Therapy is available to help facilitate these types of conversations by offering support to teens and guidance to concerned parents. If you are a parent who is concerned with your teen’s use of marijuana, consider seeking the assistance of a professional to help inform your next steps. Know that you are not alone, and resources are available to you.

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