Is Marijuana Dangerous for Teens?

A majority of states now allow the use of medical cannabis, and 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for those over the age of 21, although it is illegal on the federal level. Each state has its own rules for recreational use and the amount you can buy or grow, and some states have decriminalized carrying small amounts of marijuana. Amid the recent news of Canada’s pending landmark legalization, more states are considering legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Many ask: Will increased legalization of marijuana escalate adolescent substance abuse?

We have a drug crisis not only because drugs are so easy for young people to get, but also because risk-taking is part of teenage life. The opioid crisis affects all ages, but for teens, drug use frequently begins early with alcohol or marijuana. One could say that simply being a teen is a core part of the problem. Being pressured by peers, experimenting and doing what they know they shouldn’t can readily lead to smoking cigarettes, trying marijuana or ingesting another addictive, illegal and dangerous substance. Equally worrisome is the effect that extensive or prolonged marijuana use can have on academics, social life, sleep and family relationships.

[Read: 3 Things I Wish Parents — and Teens — Knew About Pot.]

Given the current opioid crisis in this country and the likelihood that more states will approve marijuana for recreational use, parents should be alarmed and educate themselves and their children. As we battle opioid use, some think that in comparison to opioids, there is less to worry about concerning marijuana. However, by legalizing marijuana for recreational use, the message to children is that it is safe. It is not.

Facts to Share With Your Teenagers

Here’s why marijuara isn’t safe and facts you should share with your adolescents. Maybe the evidence will keep your children from experimenting.

— Teenagers are more susceptible to addiction because their brains are still developing. And, the younger they start any drug, the more likely they are to become addicted.

— Addiction to nicotine or marijuana takes hold in similar ways in young people. In a 40-year study of smoking initiation from the University of Bergen in Norway of 119,104 subjects from 17 countries in Europe, the researchers found that, in regard to nicotine addiction, the younger the age someone started to smoke, the stronger the addiction. They concluded that “reducing initiation in adolescents is fundamental, since youngsters are particularly vulnerable to nicotine addiction.”

— Several studies demonstrate that the younger adolescents are when they start to use pot, the more likely they will have drug problems in adulthood. Boys who start smoking cannabis before age 15 are 68 percent more likely to have a drug problem by age 28. The risk drops to 44 percent if they started using marijuana between the ages of 15 and 17, according to a study published earlier this year in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

[Read: A Parent’s Guide to Vaping.]

— Researchers Carolyn Coffey and Dr. George C. Patton note also in the Journal of Canadian Psychiatry that the consequences for early teen marijuana use, especially heavy use, include persistent academic problems and progression to other substance use.

— According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Adolescents who used marijuana regularly were significantly less likely than their non-using peers to finish high school or obtain a degree. They also had a much higher chance of developing dependence, using other drugs, and attempting suicide.”

— A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry that followed young marijuana users ages 9 to 30, found, as in so many other studies, an “escalation to harsher drug use” and “a higher risk of altered brain development” as well as “lower educational attainment and employment” by early adulthood.

— For years marijuana has been labeled a gateway drug. In a 2016 New York Times opinion piece, Robert DuPont, the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, points out that, “Like nearly all people with substance abuse problems, most heroin users initiated their drug use early in their teens, usually beginning with alcohol and marijuana. There is ample evidence that early initiation of drug use primes the brain for enhanced later responses to other drugs. These facts underscore the need for effective prevention to reduce adolescent use of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana in order to turn back the heroin and opioid epidemic and to reduce burdens addiction in this country.”

[See: 4 Opioid Drugs Parents Should Have on Their Radar.]

Compounding all these issues and potential problems for adolescents is teens’ tendency to experiment and take risks. Go over this list with your children. Hopefully, a few of these specifics will stick in their minds to deter them.

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