How Teen Marijuana Use Has Significantly Changed

The cultural perception of marijuana is that it is medicinal, natural, and not dangerous. Most consider it less addictive than many other illicit drugs and unlikely to create substantial impairment or behavior changes. These stereotypes likely have become more entrenched as many states legalize marijuana. While some of that is true, teen marijuana use has radically transformed in the decades since today’s parents were teens themselves. Unfortunately, there are some important issues that parents of teenagers need to know:

Increase in Potency

Decades ago, a typical joint contained less than 4 percent THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana that causes the sensation of a high. Today, dried cannabis flower now averages closer to 15 to 20 percent THC. Additionally, today’s teens are much more likely to use high-potency products, such as THC-concentrated oils, edibles, waxes and crystals, which often contain anywhere from 40%-95% THC, an astronomical increase in potency that can have a significant impact on a developing adolescent brain.

Increase in Use

The number of American teens using marijuana or THC products has soared in recent years. Research published in 2022 by Oregon Health & Science University found that adolescent cannabis abuse in the United States has increased by approximately 245% since 2000. A 2022 study by the Columbia University School of Public Health found that, in 2020, 35% of high school seniors and 44% of college students reported using marijuana within the past year.

Change in Method

Decades ago, most marijuana users smoked a joint. That is rare now. Studies show that the most popular method of cannabis use is vaping. Research has shown that, compared with smoking cannabis, vaping increased the symptoms of short-term anxiety, paranoia, memory loss and distraction when doses were the same. So even if the potency wasn’t stronger between smoking and vaping, teens are getting a more significant impact. Even more concerning is that many teens progress to “dabbing” – inhaling high-concentrate THC oil, which as mentioned above is significantly more potent (anywhere from 20-80% stronger).

Results of these Changes

As marijuana has transformed in its potency, use and delivery method, the amount of THC a user receives has drastically increased. As a result, medical professionals are seeing a large increase in the number of people experiencing psychotic symptoms and/or addicted to marijuana.

In December 2018, Dr. Sharon Levy published a letter in the medical journal, JAMA Pediatrics, after surveying more than 500 children during their annual physical exams. Seventy teens who indicated that they had used marijuana “monthly or more” within the past year were asked a follow-up question: Had they experienced a hallucination or paranoia? Sixty percent of these kids said yes.

Paranoia, delusions and hallucinations, considered psychotic symptoms, occur on a spectrum. Some teens might only experience these symptoms while under the influence. Others experience lingering psychotic symptoms, but can identify them as such (i.e. recognizing that the delusion could not be real). But some teens develop psychosis that persists, and who no longer recognize that they are dissociated from reality. Unfortunately, all of these situations are on the rise.

Teens are more vulnerable than adults to the impact of THC because their brain is still developing. Levy noted that, “We’ve known for a very, very long time that people who use cannabis products during their adolescence have worse outcomes across the board: They’re less likely to finish school, they’re less likely to get married and start a family of their own, and they don’t do as well in the workplace.”

Final Thoughts…

Parents should not just discount marijuana use as harmless fun or as a “safer” drug. Parents who might have used a little bit of marijuana in college might be quick to think, “it’s just weed,” but it’s not that simple anymore. Be aware of the potential risks and inform your teen of the dangers.

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