Marijuana use in teens is extremely prevalent in today’s society, with adolescent marijuana use at its highest point in the last 30 years. After alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly used substance by adolescent population. Although recreational use of marijuana is permitted in some states, the recreational use of marijuana in children and teens remains illegal in all states. 

Marijuana plants are more potent than they used to be in the past, containing 2 to 3 times more THC than they used to. Cannabidiol, or CBD, has not increased in potency and remains at approximately 1%. It is important for parents to help children and teens understand the harmful impacts that marijuana use can have. Prevention, education and communication are key to minimize the chances of future dependency.

Teen Marijuana Use Trends

Many teenagers today do not perceive marijuana use to be a threat, which often serves to derail prevention efforts. Marijuana use trends show that marijuana use is more prevalent in older adolescents than younger children. In 2016, the United States Department of Health and Human Services reported that youth smoking marijuana included 5% of students in the 8th grade, 14% of students in the 10th grade and 23% of students in 12th grade.

Marijuana use in teenagers has significantly increased during the past ten years for 12th graders. Marijuana use rose from 19–23% from 2007 to 2017, as reported by the United States Department of Health and Human Services in their 2016 report.

Vaping is a new way to smoke marijuana, depicting another trend of marijuana and teens. A 2017 survey found that 2% of 8th graders, 4% of 10th graders and 5% of 12 graders reported vaping marijuana in the last 30 days.

Marijuana as a Gateway Drug

Children and teenagers today do not view marijuana use as dangerous or hazardous like they did in the past. Framing marijuana as a gateway drug does not seem to hold much credibility to today’s youth, as many do not believe that this claim is true or credible.  

Some research shows that marijuana can be considered a gateway drug. Data from the National Epidemiological Study of Alcohol Use and Related Disorders reported that individuals who used marijuana during the first part of the study were more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder in the next three years.

Other research does not support the gateway theory, as some studies have shown that more than 20% of people who use marijuana don’t go on to use more powerful drugs or develop addictions.

Methods of Marijuana Use

There are many ways to use marijuana and methods of marijuana use available today. The most common method of ingestion is through smoking marijuana by rolling it into joints or inhaling it through pipes, blunts or gravity bongs. 

A somewhat new method of marijuana use is through vaping, where the active ingredients in marijuana can be inhaled as a vapor rather than smoke. Dabbing is a method similar to vaping but uses THC resins that have been taken from the marijuana plant.

Marijuana can also be ingested orally by baking or adding it to different types of food. Oils that have been retrieved from marijuana plants can be blended with food, used during cooking or baking or added into beverages.

Spraying is another newer method of marijuana use that involves infusing liquids with THC or CBD to make sprays that can be used under the tongue. Topical methods of marijuana use can also be used. Topical oils are extracted from the marijuana plant and can be absorbed through the skin.

Common methods of ingesting marijuana include:

  • Smoking Pot: Smoking pot is still the most common method of marijuana use. Kids smoking weed can roll marijuana into joints or smoke through pipes or blunts. 
  • Eating Marijuana Edibles: Marijuana edibles are a form of marijuana where the drug is baked or added to various kinds of food. Cannabis edibles can also include extracted oils from marijuana plants. Pot edibles are currently being marketed in states where marijuana is legal in the form of cookies, cakes and lollipops.
  • Marijuana Concentrates: Marijuana concentrates are extremely potent masses of THC that can be added to food or vaped. Concentrated marijuana contains very high levels of THC that range from 40–80%. This type of marijuana may be up to four times stronger than marijuana, with THC levels of about 20%.

Dangers of Marijuana Use in Teenagers

The dangers of marijuana use in teenagers have intensified due to higher levels of THC being used.  Elevated THC levels can increase the risk for negative effects, although the actual consequences of exposure to THC levels are still being studied. 

Research is ongoing regarding the long-term effects of marijuana on health, although popular opinion is that the effects of marijuana on teens can be harmful. Some studies have shown that marijuana can have a negative impact on the brain development of teenagers, potentially causing changes to the size, blood flow and quality of connections in the brain. Marijuana use in adolescence may also be associated with lower IQ scores and reduced memory and attention span. 

Risk of Concentrated Marijuana Abuse

Concentrated marijuana can have a larger physical and psychological impact on teenagers due to the potency and high levels of THC. The long-term effects of marijuana concentrates remain unknown, although short-term effects include a powerful high, hallucinations, significant behavioral changes and increased risk for overdose.

How Teens Become Addicted to Marijuana

Teens often begin using marijuana recreationally and maintain the belief that their usage is safe and harmless. However, as usage increases, dependency can occur without them even realizing that it’s occurring. Teenagers are at risk for developing a dependence to marijuana because their brains are still developing.

The THC in marijuana impacts neural connections in an adolescent’s brain, which triggers the release of dopamine. Teen marijuana addiction occurs when teenagers continue to use marijuana more frequently to regain a high. Teens addicted to marijuana continually seek the euphoria associated with a THC high, causing them to use more frequently with more potent methods. Research shows that about 9% of people who use marijuana become addicted to it, and this number is elevated to 17% for those who begin using marijuana at a young age.

Signs of Teen Marijuana Addiction

There are several signs of marijuana addiction that can alert parents that their child may need professional intervention. Teen addiction can result in negative consequences at home and school. 

Some signs of marijuana use in teens can include:

  • Lowered levels of motivation
  • Decreased academic performance
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Elevation in secretive behaviors
  • Changes in social circles
  • Increased absences in school
  • Lack of interest and involvement in sports and activities
  • Elevated levels of anxiety and depression
  • Increased oppositional behaviors and disciplinary actions in school
  • Increased agitation, moodiness and irritability
  • Red or glassy eyes

Teaching Teens About the Dangers of Recreational Drugs

Due to the dangers of recreational drug use and the impulsive decision making that often comes with adolescence, it is important for parents to maintain open communication with their children. Talking to your teenager about drugs is imperative for prevention and education and will encourage your teenager to make informed, positive choices. 

Parents need to set limits and expectations, discuss the consequences of recreational drug use and help teenagers learn how to manage peer pressure and their emotions. Parents need to make sure their children know that, although recreational marijuana is legal in some states, it does not mean that it is not without risks, consequences or dangers.

Marijuana Addiction Help for Children and Teens

Marijuana addiction help and professional treatment are available for teens addicted to marijuana. Depending on the severity of the addiction, treatment can take place in an inpatient or outpatient setting. A teen drug rehab specialist can conduct a thorough assessment, develop an individualized treatment plan and determine if other co-occurring disorders are present. Teenagers can participate in individual, group and family therapy in addition to aftercare planning and maintenance to prevent the risk of relapse.  

Key Points: Marijuana Abuse in Children and Teens

  • Marijuana abuse in adolescents is on the rise and is the second most abused drug in the adolescent population
  • Trends show that teenagers no longer identify marijuana as a potential threat to their health and well-being
  • Marijuana use in teenagers can have a negative impact on the developing brain and on executive brain functions such as memory and attention
  • There are many methods of marijuana use including smoking, oral ingestion and marijuana concentrates that can be added into food or electronically vaped
  • Marijuana concentrates have potent levels of THC that have short-term consequences and can increase the risk of overdose
  • Signs of marijuana use often include decreased academic performance, isolating behaviors, increased agitation and lowered levels of motivation and interest in pleasurable activities
  • Teaching teenagers about the dangers of recreational drug use is critical for prevention 
  • Treatment can help teenagers addicted on marijuana and can take place in inpatient or outpatient settings depending on the severity of addiction

If your child or teenager is struggling with marijuana addiction, contact one of the addiction specialists at The Recovery Village for confidential assistance. An addiction specialist can help you assess your child’s situation and advise if further action may be warranted. If your child or teenager may benefit from further intervention, a knowledgeable addiction specialist can discuss substance abuse treatment options with you.