Research shows that this concerning trend can do both long-term and short-term damage to a developing teenager’s brain and mental health.

Why The Rise Of Cannabis Use In Teens?

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Because April is National Cannabis Awareness Month, it seemed fitting to address how increased marijuana use in teenagers can harm a teen’s physical health and mental well-being. While the research is still ongoing regarding the potential health benefits of cannabis, what we do know for sure is that the rise in cannabis use in teens over the last 30 years has led to well-documented physical and mental health side effects. In today’s fast-paced world, teenagers feel pressure and stress and are more likely to turn to marijuana use than tobacco to quell internal doubts or relieve stress. 

The Impact of Cannabis on Teen Development

Although there are many reasons why teens use cannabis–from social or internal pressure or just curiosity–in recent years, it has become crystal clear that teen health and marijuana use are invariably linked. 

Effects of Cannabis on Teens

Your child’s brain will continue to develop until they reach 25 years of age. Because the brain is still developing, cannabis use during this period of time may affect brain development in both the short and long term. Teenagers wrongly assume that cannabis is safe to consume because it’s considered “natural” however, research shows that cannabis use at an early age can harm the brain.

Short-term use of marijuana can lead to:

  • School difficulties–impairs thinking, memory, and learning
  • Changes in mood, sleep, and appetite
  • Increased aggression
  • Car accidents– use affects reaction time, coordination, and concentration
  • Use of other drugs or alcohol
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Depression
  • Social anxiety
  • Increased risk of psychosis–hallucinations and paranoia
  • Relationships problems

Long-term use of marijuana can lead to:

  • Cannabis Use Disorder
  • Breathing problems (coughing, wheezing, and lung cancer)
  • Decreased motivation or interest in everyday activities and school
  • Lower intelligence
  • Long-lasting mental disorders, especially schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, anger, irritability, and risk of suicide

Age-Specific Trends in Cannabis Consumption

The CDC reported that in 2022, more than 30% of 12th graders reported using marijuana in the past year. In addition, teenage boys and young adults are more likely to use cannabis. With the marijuana use trending upwards with each year, you may not be surprised with the following cannabis statistics from the CDC:

  • 37% of US high school students reported regular use of marijuana
  • 22% reported use in the past 30 days
  • Past-year vaping of marijuana also remained steady in 2023 and beyond
  • 8% of eighth graders reported vaping
  • 19% of 10th graders reported vaping
  • 22% of 12th graders reported vaping

Why Teens Turn to Cannabis

If you’re concerned about your child’s cannabis use, you may be wondering how you can talk to your teen about cannabis without judgment. This may be unfamiliar territory for you and an uncomfortable conversation to have. However, understanding the impetus behind teenage cannabis usage will help you start the conversation from a compassionate point of view.

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Why do teens start using cannabis?

Teenagers and young adults use cannabis for many reasons. Sometimes, it’s solely for curiosity, or maybe they feel peer pressure from friends and feel like using cannabis will help them fit in with friends. Undoubtedly, some teens and young adults are using cannabis to self-medicate–to cope with anxiety, stress, and even depression. 

Also, consider that your child may not believe that cannabis use is a risky behavior. This can partially be attributed to changes to some states’ policies on the legalization of cannabis

for recreational use. However, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, even though many states have legalized its use. Above all, make sure that your child understands that cannabis is addictive. In fact, research shows that 1 in 6 youths who start using the drug before the age of

18 can become addicted. 

Signs and symptoms of cannabis use

Recognizing signs of marijuana use can be difficult–especially if you’re not sure what to look for. If your teen shows any of these behaviors, it might indicate he or she is using cannabis (but not necessarily, so use your best judgment):

  • Unusual laughing, coordination issues, or forgetfulness
  • Bloodshot eyes or repeated use of eye drops
  • Strange-smelling clothes or bedroom 
  • Frequent use of incense and other deodorizers
  • Unexplained lack of money or frequent requests for money
  • The presence of drug paraphernalia–like rolling paper, a pipe, a bong, a roach clip, or an electronic cigarette 

Cannabis Use In Adolescents: The Broader Implications

Teens who use cannabis are more likely to get into car accidents and may struggle with maintaining healthy relationships. This may complicate an already stressful situation. If your child is still young, you should have conversations about prevention. If your child is older, here are some tips on how to talk to your child about their cannabis use in a non-inflammatory way. 

Prevention Tips

Check in frequently to see how your child is doing–this could be as simple as informal chit-chat in the car at school pick-up, during dinner, or while watching that silly commercial break for the 10th time while watching a favorite episode series. We always recommend that you be clear and consistent about your expectations regarding drug use, including cannabis use. More than anything, make sure you express your love for them and that you are always there for them. 

For teenagers and young adults, help them create an “exit plan” in case he or she is faced with a

difficult decision about cannabis. Making the decision of what you will do and say before the situation arises will help them stay strong. Role-playing is a great way to help your child think through a potentially dangerous situation. Peer pressure is a powerful motivation, so coming up with a solid action plan and practicing it together in a safe environment will empower your teen to make good choices when it matters.

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How Pure Life Can Help

We love creating resources that help parents and youth navigate tricky situations. If you’d like to find out more about how teens self-medicate and what you can do to help, read our white paper for some valuable insights that you can use today.

If you need a little more direction, consider connecting with a Pure Life representative to discuss our adventure therapy program for adolescents and young adults. We strongly believe in nature’s restorative and healing power, and our adventure therapy program is a holistic and individualized approach that harnesses the healing powers of nature and therapy to help your child develop healthy coping habits. 

Our program was specifically designed to develop life skills and self-esteem and teach healthy alternatives to substance use. If you’re wondering where to turn next, we can help. Contact us today for a free consultation!

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