Concerns about marijuana use among adolescents become a more pertinent subject as more states seek to legalize cannabis. Two Colorado surveys reported that marijuana use among teens increased significantly from 2017 to 2019. One survey conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) found that Pueblo and Denver schools reported the highest use rates, which included smoking, dabbing (smoking cannabis wax products), eating, drinking, and vaporizing. There are various associated risks of teens using marijuana, and prevention is key to mitigating long-term concerns for parents and communities nationwide.
According to the CDPHE survey, the prevalence of use within the last 30 days measured a little over 20% of the state’s high schoolers in total. The National Institute of Drug Abuse cautions that marijuana may have detrimental effects on young, developing brains. Studies report that teens using marijuana may increase the risk of addiction, as well as the development of mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. As new information is learned, there may be other health concerns caused by early marijuana use.
The Rise in Marijuana Potency
Health studies have indicated that the potency of marijuana in any form has steadily increased since legalization. The average percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in 93% of products sold in recreational shops exceeds 15%. High potency related to teens using marijuana can change the drug’s overall effects, but not in a good way.
Additionally, since legalization, teens have reported that obtaining THC products is much easier given accessibility to the abundance of dispensaries. However, in states where marijuana is still considered an illicit substance, 23% of middle and high schoolers are still experimenting. In 2018, more than 11 million young adults used marijuana in the past year.
What is THC, and How Does It Impact Young People?
Since 1996, 23 states have legalized cannabis for medical use. In 2012, Colorado became the first state to legalize the drug for recreational use for adults 21 years of age or older. In 2020, 15 states fully legalized marijuana, and more than a dozen others have passed mixed legislation leaning more toward decriminalizing. Acceptance of cannabis is growing, and parents are understandably concerned.
There are a lot of open questions about teens using marijuana and its impacts on brain development. In order to delve further into the subject, it’s important to understand one of the main ingredients of marijuana products: tetrahydrocannabinol.
How does it work?
The main active ingredient in marijuana, widely referred to by its acronym THC, possesses psychoactive properties. Psychoactive drugs generally impact the brain and its natural functions, which can cause changes in mood, awareness, thoughts, feelings, or behavior. Such mind-altering drugs include:
When ingested, marijuana’s THC ingredient is absorbed in the blood and carried to the brain. The human body contains something called the endocannabinoid system, which is tasked with carrying out a variety of psychological processes, including appetite, pain perception, mood, and memory. Various cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body, but particularly the brain. THC works by interacting with these receptors, stimulating them beyond their normal levels, according to Psychology Today, resulting in the following changes:
- Feelings of relaxation or euphoria
- Impaired attention, judgment, and cognitive functions
- Increased heart rate
- Loss of concentration
- Reduced motor activity
- Short-term memory loss
- Spontaneous fits of laughter
To some degree, marijuana can calm symptoms of anxiety, but only in the short-term. In some individuals, it may trigger psychosis and other underlying mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, paranoia, and schizophrenia. A 2019 study conducted by the Lancet found that daily users of high-potency cannabis are five times more likely to have psychotic disorders than those who never used marijuana.
Teens Using Marijuana
Why are the above effects of marijuana particularly concerning for teens’ developing minds? Teens using marijuana is not an uncommon event. For the last several decades, it has been among the most prevalent experimental drugs for teenagers. However, with the rise in potency of newly developed marijuana products, risks to adolescents have increased tenfold. For example, shatter and wax, commonly used for dabbing, contain THC concentrations of 95% or more.
Given that the brain continues developing until the age of 21 (hence the legal age of use), marijuana is more likely to impede natural functionality. As a result, it can stunt growth in younger brains. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), teen users of marijuana and its various forms are more likely to experience:
- Lowered IQ
- Long-term depression
- Psychotic breaks
- Structural brain abnormalities
- Suicidal thoughts
Moreover, the concentration of THC, plus the corresponding mental health effects, is stronger among teenagers from ages 12 to 21.
Quick facts on teens using marijuana
As marijuana use becomes more widely accepted, it’s important to understand the significant health impactions for teens using marijuana in any form. Here are some quick facts to be aware of:
- People who use marijuana prior to the age of 12 are more likely to experience co-occurring mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia, compared to those who begin using marijuana after 18.
- A 2012 study demonstrated that teens using marijuana lost an average of eight IQ points.
- Marijuana smoke contains 50% to 70% more cancer-causing substances than tobacco smoke.
- Teens using marijuana before the age of 18 are more likely to develop a marijuana addiction.
- Middle schoolers and high schoolers that begin using marijuana are more likely than their non-using peers to get poor grades and drop out of high school.
- Drive while under the influence of marijuana can double the chance of a vehicular accident.
- Roughly 7% of high schoolers reported vaping marijuana at least once in the past year.
- A 2017 study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine indicates that teens who vape marijuana are twice as likely to experience respiratory problems like coughing, bronchitis, congestion, and phlegm.
One popular myth regarding marijuana is its designation as a gateway drug. While studies have found that marijuana users are more likely to experiment with drugs, there’s little to no scientific evidence that marijuana causes a person to try substances, whether legal or illegal.
Approaching Teens Using Marijuana
Marijuana will continue to be an impactful subject among the nation’s youth. For parents, preventative measures are the best way to mitigate the lasting effects of marijuana and its psychoactive ingredient THC.
It’s imperative to hold ongoing conversations about the dangers of marijuana use. The risks associated can have long-term impacts. Some resources from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that can offer support include:
AspenRidge REACH: Online Marijuana Addiction Support
With advances in technology, online counseling, telehealth and teletherapy services are becoming more common and effective forms of substance abuse treatment. Marijuana treatments were once restricted to in-person meetings but can now happen anytime and anywhere with a reliable internet connection.
AspenRidge REACH offers supportive care that addresses co-occurring disorders. Through our various programs offered, including:
Our licensed clinicians help to address teens using marijuana plus underlying mental health disorders. Because mental health conditions can influence addiction and substance use can make mental health conditions worse, both issues must be addressed during treatment. To learn more, contact us directly at 720-650-8055.