Teens and Kids Smoking Weed

Marijuana is the second most commonly abused drug among teens. Many teens smoke weed to fit in or feel happy, but the drug can have a lasting impact on their brains.
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More teens smoked marijuana in 2017 than smoked cigarettes or used vaping products, according to the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey. Overall, rates of illicit drug use, cigarette use and alcohol use are declining among adolescents. But teen marijuana use has remained consistent for a decade.

The drug’s medical benefits and safety for adults is debatable. But it’s clear that marijuana use can cause lasting harm to the teen brain, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

And teens have access to more potent marijuana today than their parents had access to in the 1980s and ’90s. Youth also have access to electronic vaping products and pure THC oils.

“When you are vaping marijuana, you can put almost 100 percent pure THC,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, said during a teleconference attended by DrugRehab.com. “So you are delivering a very, very high dose and therefore are likely to be linked with much worse adverse events than just smoking marijuana.”

Edible products, lotions and other forms of marijuana are also available. These products may appear to be less dangerous because they aren’t smoked or injected. But each contains THC, which can have a negative impact on the brain.

Risks of Teen Marijuana Use

Trying marijuana one time is unlikely to cause long-lasting health problems. But marijuana can complicate anxiety problems. Children with anxiety disorders may experience panic attacks when they smoke the drug or as marijuana leaves their system. Others may get hurt acting recklessly. But in general, the risks of one-time use are low.

“Particularly worrisome is regular patterns of use,” Volkow said. “In [high school] seniors, 5.9 percent of them report regular marijuana use, which is basically daily use.

“Why is this of concern? Because they are in school, and they are supposed to be learning and memorizing. This pattern of use has been shown to be associated with impairment in educational achievement and with very significant levels of dropout.”

In addition to the drug’s effects on academics, risks of teen marijuana use include:

  • Heart problems
  • Trouble breathing
  • Mental health issues

Regular marijuana use is also associated with lower life satisfaction. That may be caused by the drug’s effects on the pleasure system in the brain or life problems associated with marijuana use. For example, 12th-graders who smoke marijuana are twice as likely to get a traffic ticket, according to NIDA.

Marijuana also affects how likely a person is to use other drugs. Some research indicates that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to other drug use. But other studies suggest that people who use marijuana already face a high risk for drug abuse.

Child & Teen Marijuana Statistics

The Monitoring the Future Survey, sponsored by NIDA and conducted by the University of Michigan, is the most authoritative teen survey on drug use in the United States. It gathers data on middle school and high school drug use among a nationally representative sample of 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders.

Combined Marijuana Use Among Eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders in 2017
Past 30-day 14.5 percent
Past year 23.9 percent
Lifetime 29.3 percent
Source: 2017 Monitoring the Future Survey

As expected, rates of marijuana use are lowest among 8th-graders. By 12th grade, nearly half of teens reported trying marijuana at least once in their lifetime. More than a third of high school seniors used marijuana in 2017, and less than a quarter used marijuana monthly.

These marijuana statistics from the 2017 survey include smoking, vaping and eating the drug. Nearly 10 percent of 12th-graders reported that they vaped marijuana in the past year.

“In each of the grades, about 20 percent of total marijuana use was driven by people who only vape marijuana and don’t use it in any other way,” Volkow said.

Rates of marijuana edible use are higher in states that have legalized marijuana use for adults. Volkow said about 16.5 percent of students in states that legalized marijuana consumed marijuana edibles. In comparison, about 8 percent of students in states that haven’t legalized marijuana consumed edibles.

“We see that edibles are probably being used around 10 percent or 11 percent,” Volkow said regarding national edible use. “But there is a significant difference between the states.”

Why Kids Try Marijuana

Teens try drugs for a variety of reasons. Genetic and environmental factors affect which kids will try drugs. For example, a child raised by parents who smoke weed is more likely to try the drug than a child raised by parents who don’t.

Some children are born with self-control issues. These children may be more prone to take risks or give in to peer pressure.

Specific reasons that kids try marijuana include:

  • To fit in
  • To get high
  • To relieve stress, sadness or anxiety
  • To experiment

Many kids try marijuana because they think it’s less harmful than other illicit drugs, such as cocaine or heroin. Less than 12 percent of high school seniors think trying marijuana once or twice will cause a great risk of harm. And less than one third think smoking marijuana regularly will cause a great risk of harm, according to Monitoring the Future.

Talking to Teens About Marijuana

Many teens are skeptical about marijuana warnings. They hear teachers and parents tell them not to do drugs, but they see drug use glamorized in the media. Talking to teens about marijuana can seem more complicated than talking to them about other types of drugs.

Unlike alcohol or cocaine, marijuana overdoses don’t kill people. Parents shouldn’t try to scare teens by exaggerating the drug’s hazards. They should educate them with the facts.

Effective ways to prevent teen marijuana use include:

  • Explaining facts about the negative health effects of marijuana
  • Dispelling misconceptions
  • Discussing the risks of marijuana addiction and related legal problems
  • Brainstorming alternative ways to have fun
  • Enforcing strict rules regarding marijuana use

In general, many teens will try marijuana and never experience major legal or health problems. Those who frequently smoke the drug put themselves at risk for future problems with marijuana and other drugs. They also increase their chances of experiencing academic, legal and social problems.

Medical Disclaimer: DrugRehab.com aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer, DrugRehab.com
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.

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