Marijuana use among teens is at its highest in 30 years, and cultural views of the drug have changed. What does this mean for teens and their health?

Marijuana use in teens is not a new phenomenon, but it is certainly a different type of issue now that it has been legalized in multiple states. Since marijuana has been legalized in 11 states, cultural views of the drug have changed and conversations about marijuana use have become more mainstream.

Marijuana and its byproducts are used in many different industries, ranging from pain relief and topical use products to varying strains that are known for different properties. No longer viewed as merely a drug to get high, marijuana is being praised for helping with a host of different conditions. However, has this cultural normalization of marijuana use negatively impacted teens?

Teen Marijuana Use on the Rise

The use of marijuana in teens is increasing. In fact, teen marijuana is being used at its highest rate in 30 years. Some believe that this rise is a result of the drug’s legalization in many states. This assumption has been proven false in a study that gave a closer examination of the 11 states where pot has been legalized. The study indicated that it is actually more difficult to get marijuana in states where the drug is legal.

Dispensaries that distribute marijuana require legal clearance and proof of age to sell it, which means more people are accessing marijuana through these legal channels. In spite of the increased difficulty, however, teens are still getting access to the drug.

How many teens use marijuana today? Currently, teen use remains at its highest rate in three decades. According to a 2018 survey, 13.9% of 8th graders had used marijuana. By 12th grade, 43.6% of surveyed students had used it.

Why Are More Teens Using Marijuana?

Why do teens use marijuana? Often, marijuana use in teens initially stems from curiosity. When teens see their peers or hear of people in the media using marijuana, they may want to try it themselves. In social settings where others are using it, the odds of teens using the drug are greater.

For some, access to marijuana is easier than gaining access to alcohol and is considered safer because it is plant-based. Teens in 2019 are more likely to smoke marijuana cigarettes than tobacco cigarettes. As our culture becomes more tolerant of the use of marijuana, more teens are viewing it as an option for intoxication.

Teen Attitudes Toward Marijuana Use

Teens and marijuana use are not a surprising combination, but the changing attitudes teens have toward the drug may be surprising to some. Since the legalization of marijuana in a number of states, teens and adults have begun to have a more positive view of the drug. Instead of being demonized, marijuana is now viewed as a substance that can be useful and practical.

As states have begun legalizing the drug, teens who smoke pot are beginning to view it as safe instead of as a dangerous practice. In fact, many teens and adults believe that marijuana is less risky than alcohol use. However, they may not be considering the risk factors that are prevalent with the use of marijuana.

Teens and Marijuana in States with Legalized Use

Teen smoking statistics show us that marijuana use among teens has not increased in the 11 states where the drug has been legalized. While it does appear that legalization has validated marijuana’s use for many teens and adults, the safeguards created by dispensaries have decreased teen access.

The increased dialogue about varying marijuana derivatives and medical indications has also convinced many that the drug is harmless.

Teen marijuana use has become a more common occurrence than ever, but the legalization of the drug is not the cause of the increase.

Discussing the Dangers of Marijuana Use with Teens

What are the dangers of marijuana use for teens? As common as marijuana use among teens has become, there are some dangers that teens and parents should be aware of. Along with lung damage from smoke inhalation, marijuana can trigger mental illness in teens who are predisposed to thought disorders, such as schizophrenia, psychosis, and others. In addition, girls who use marijuana daily are more likely to experience depression prior to age 21.

Marijuana use in teens can also alter their development, as the human brain does not fully develop until the mid-20s. This can mean that teens who start smoking marijuana early can become developmentally stuck and emotionally locked into the age when they began using. These are risk factors for underdeveloped coping strategies, which can cause a lifelong reliance on substances to manage emotions.

What can parents do to help? Here are a few tips:

  • Educate early. If you’re wondering how to prevent marijuana use, the most simple and straightforward way is talking to kids about marijuana.
  • Set a good example. It’s important for parents to set a good example when considering how to prevent drug use among teens.
  • Be stern. Teen addiction is a serious and scary condition. Punishment for teenage drug use is an expected part of the consequences of this dangerous behavior, but it is also important to balance out punishment with assessment, education, and treatment.
  • Encourage good behavior. How can you prevent drug use in adolescence? Encouraging involvement in healthy activities such as sports, clubs and extracurricular activities can be a way to help protect adolescents from drug use. Establish a relationship with your teen that helps them feel they can talk to you about difficult subjects, worries or peer challenges. Being accessible to a teen makes you a safe person to confide in, which can be a good preventative against substance use.

Recognizing Signs of Marijuana Use in Teens

Signs of marijuana use in teens can be difficult to detect at times. Avoidance of family activities, decreasing effort in school tasks, dropping grades, irritability and mood swings can all indicate substance use. Teens smoking pot is on the rise, but it doesn’t mean that it is inevitable. There are ways to prepare, educate and protect your teen.

Help for Teen Marijuana Addiction

If you or your teen are using substances such as marijuana, addiction help is available. The Recovery Village offers professional counseling and support services that can help with addiction and mental health needs. Contact us today to learn about teen drug rehabilitation options and treatment plans. 

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Editor – Johanna Galyen, RN
Johanna Galyen is a Registered Nurse and is passionate about helping others increase their understanding of their medical illnesses. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Paula Holmes, LCSW
Paula Holmes is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and freelance writer who lives and works in midcoast Maine. She received her master's degree in Social Work in 2008 from the University of Maine. Read more

Governing. “State Marijuana Laws in 2019 Map.” (n.d.). Accessed July 23, 2019.

Health and Human Services. “Resources and Strategies for Reducing Use.” April 23, 2019. Accessed July 23, 2019.

Morin, Amy. “Statistics on Teen Marijuana Use.” Very Well Mind, November 13, 2018. Accessed July 23, 2019.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “Marijuana and Teens.” May 2018. Accessed July 23, 2019.

Anderson, Mark; Hansen, Benjamin; Rees, Daniel; et al. “Associations of Marijuana Laws with Teen Marijuana Use.” JAMA, July 8, 2019. Accessed July 23, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in t[…]ce of Various Drugs.” (n.d.). Accessed July 23, 2019.

MacDonald, Ann. “Teens who smoke pot at greater risk for […]ophrenia, psychosis.” Harvard Health Publishing, November 30, 2011. Accessed July 23, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.