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How to teach teens the risks of pot when Marijuana is legal


There are many theories as to why marijuana use is on the rise among teens. Cultural norms are changing and there is more acceptance of marijuana. Marijuana is more likely to be viewed as more similar to alcohol or smoking than cocaine or heroin among adolescents. The legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use also reduces the perceived risk of marijuana use among teens. Additionally, especially in areas where marijuana is legal, there is increased access.

What effect does marijuana use have on teens?

Although marijuana continues to gain a wider acceptance, it is important to remember that substance use does carry risk, particularly in developing minds and bodies. Teens are going through rapid changes in their physical bodies, their psychological development, their social roles and independence, and emotionally as they move through puberty. Marijuana may negatively influence their growth and development in all these areas.

What guidelines can parents follow to help control marijuana use in their children?

Here are some facts and resources parents can use to inform themselves about marijuana. Having solid medical and scientific information at hand can help parents prepare to talk to their teens and answer questions that may arise about marijuana use.

  1. Marijuana is not a medicine. Although some components of marijuana have been studied to treat various conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease or nausea related to chemotherapy, it is important to remember that none of the studies included children. Therefore, no one knows how marijuana affects children for these conditions.
  2. Marijuana is made up of more than 400 different chemicals. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary chemical that creates psychological effects. THC has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and the placenta. This means THC readily enters the brain and, if a teen is pregnant, is shared with the fetus.
  3. Marijuana can be taken in many forms, such as smoking or eating. Depending on the ingestion method, the onset of effects can occur as quickly as 30 minutes when smoked or in about 2 hours if eaten. Normal body changes from marijuana ingestion include increased heartbeat, increased blood pressure, dry mouth and throat, and red eyes.
  4. Misperceptions among teens and their parents can cause them to think that marijuana is a safe substance. However, all major pediatric organizations agree that there are significant harmful effects of marijuana use during adolescence. Major concerns related to marijuana use include: cognitive decline, mental health disorders (especially psychosis), addiction (1 in 6 who use become addicted), and increased risky behaviors (e.g. driving while high).
  5. The levels of potency of THC in marijuana has increased in recent years and caused a rise in emergency rooms visits for adverse effects such as paranoia, anxiety, panic, hallucinations, vomiting, erratic mood swings, and aggressive behavior.

Based on this data, parents are encouraged to talk to teens about avoiding marijuana use completely. For parents whose teens are already using, they should help and support their teens in quitting. Teens who use daily or have addiction concerns should be taken to their health care provider to find appropriate adolescent treatment centers for marijuana addiction.

Talking to teens about marijuana use may be difficult for some families. Some parents may think that their teens would never try or use any substance, including marijuana. The good new is that talking to teens about the risks of marijuana use does not need to be accusatory. Parents can address the issue from the perspective of giving information to help teens make better decisions, including continuing to choose not use marijuana. Starting the discussion, providing an open space for dialog, asking teens what they think about the topic, listening their perspective, and giving solid, science-based information can help parents guide their teens towards healthy behaviors regarding substance use.

Although marijuana is becoming increasingly accepted, medical evidence is clear that marijuana use has many adverse health effects, especially in adolescents’ growing bodies. Impaired cognitive function, mental health disorders, and addiction are all relevant problems that parents can guide their teens to avoid by educating them about the risks of marijuana.

For more information, parents are encouraged to speak with their children’s health care provider and visit these websites:

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Monday, 26 August 2019

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Dr. Deanna Marie Mason

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