Are there risks associated with adolescent and teen marijuana use? This is a question we frequently hear from concerned parents in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada.
Thankfully, there is abundant research on the risks of teen marijuana use that can be a helpful guide for both parents and teens alike. In this article, we’ll do our best to provide you with a brief overview of those research findings while also providing guidance for concerned parents.
Three Important Facts About Teen Marijuana Use
First, some basic facts about teen marijuana use:
- 38% of high school students report using marijuana at least once; 
- Teens increasingly think using marijuana is safe, and more teens are smoking marijuana regularly. A recent NIH survey found that 60% of 12th graders do not view marijuana use as harmful (a decrease from previous years); about 7% of 12th graders smoke marijuana daily (an increase from previous years); 
- Marijuana has become much more potent over the past two decades, thus risk of use for all age groups (especially teens) has increased. From 1995-2014, levels of THC (the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol that causes a “high”) in marijuana increased from 4% to 12%. Interestingly, cannabidiol (the compound used for medicinal benefits) decreased from an average of .28% in 2001 to less than .15% in 2014. 
What Are the Risks of Marijuana Use In Teens?
The human brain is in continual development up until the mid 20s. This makes the habitual use of psychoactive compounds uniquely risky for younger people, since it may permanently and negatively impact brain development.
In fact, the tendency for teenagers to engage in high-risk behaviors and make irrational decisions is due to the fact that they largely process information through a brain region called the amygdala (the emotional center) whereas adults are able to process information more through their fully developed prefrontal cortex (the control center which helps us moderate our impulses and make more balanced, rational decisions). 
If your teenager tries marijuana, it’s not necessarily indicative of any underlying problems, and it doesn’t make you a bad parent. It simply means that your teen is taking risks and exploring, which is a normal part of self-exploration and development on their path towards adulthood.
However, risk-taking doesn’t always come without consequences, and it’s important to know that there is an abundance of research literature indicating both short and long-term risks for teens who use marijuana – especially those who use it habitually.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) outlines the risks of teenage marijuana use as follows:
- Difficulty thinking and problem solving,
- Problems with memory and learning,
- Impaired coordination,
- Difficulty maintaining attention,
- Decline in school performance,
- Increased risk of mental health issues,
- Impaired driving,
- Potential for addiction. 
Negative Outcomes From Marijuana Use: Causation or Correlation?
For certain outcomes associated with marijuana use, it’s difficult for researchers to distinguish between correlation and causation. For instance, teens who regularly use marijuana also tend to engage in other high-risk behaviors such as:
- Immature sexual activity;
- Leaving home at an early age;
- Using other, more potent drugs;
- Driving while high on marijuana (which doubles the risk of accidents); and
- Criminal activity such as theft and burglary. 
Teenagers who engage in clusters of high risk behaviors do so due to a combination of biological, social, and environmental factors. It’s therefore difficult to point solely to their marijuana use as the cause of a negative outcome, rather than simply being one of potentially many correlating factors.
As previously mentioned, the fact that marijuana potency has increased significantly in recent decades further complicates research findings. For instance longitudinal research on marijuana safety from subjects who used marijuana decades ago may no longer accurately reflect outcomes of marijuana users today, given the increased potency.
Additionally, smoking, eating, vaping, and other forms of marijuana consumption may each pose unique risks particular to that specific method of use.
Our Take: Recommendations For Parents and Youth Regarding Teen Marijuana Use
Teenagers will inevitably take risks and make highly emotional decisions. As a parent, you can help guide them through these challenging years by loving, listening, and supporting them. You can also support and incentivize their participation in healthy risk taking and exploration, such as travel, sports, summer jobs, new hobbies and interests, etc..
Do your best to maintain an open, trusting relationship with your teen, so they know they can come to you any time they are experiencing a hard decision or moral dilemma. Start by listening and asking them questions, rather than immediately prescribing a solution or condemning their behaviors. Ultimately, your goal is to help them figure out how to make thoughtful, long-term decisions while developing their own sense of agency.
We highly encourage you to talk openly and honestly to your children about the real risks and side effects of marijuana, alcohol, and other drugs as they’re approaching their teen years, because it’s highly likely they’ll be exposed to these substances by their peer groups at an earlier age than you might expect. It’s best that you help inform and frame their perceptions rather than letting another teen do that job for you during a moment of peer pressure.
Need More Help?
For more tips on how best to communicate with your teens about marijuana and other drug use, please read this guide from Partnership For Drug Free Kids.
If your teenager has a drug addiction and you need help, please get in touch with us immediately.
Whether you’re a teen or a parent, we hope you found this article helpful!