There are two things you really need to be aware of when it comes to teens and marijuana. Firstly, a lot of teens are smoking weed and this trend seems to be on the rise. Secondly, weed is not quite the same as it was back in the 70s when marijuana first spiked in usage. The potency has changed which means the short-term and long-term effects are different now.
First things first: the prevalence of marijuana use.
When I say “a lot” of teens are smoking weed, I mean that in 2013, studies showed that 7.0% of 8th graders, 18.0% of 10th graders, and 22.7% of 12th graders used marijuana in the past month. Studies show that teens are smoking weed more than they are smoking cigarettes and, depending on the age group, are sometimes smoking weed more than they are drinking alcohol.
But the prevalence isn’t the only issue. The THC content (the chemical within marijuana which is responsible for most of the psychological effects) has changed. While reports vary, it appears that the THC level in pot In 1970’s and 80’s averaged somewhere between 1-4%. Today the THC level averages somewhere between 7-13% with some samples reported at 37%.
So what does that mean? Heavy marijuana use alters teen’s brain structure.
In a study done by Northwestern Medicine in 2013, researchers found that teens who smoked marijuana daily for about three years had abnormal changes in their brain structures related to working memory and performed poorly on memory tasks. Memory-related structures in their brains appeared to shrink and collapse inward, reflecting a possible decrease in neuron volume. These findings indicate that there could be long-term detriments of chronic marijuana use as a teenager. Younger regular users are more at risk of long-term effects.
Marijuana usage can result in disorientation, difficulty in thinking and problem solving; ongoing problems with learning and memory; red eyes, mucus-filled cough, rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, slow reaction time, anxiety, panic, and depression. Users also can experience psychotic symptoms with high levels of THC.
All of this to say, marijuana usage in teens should be a concern to you.
Regular usage is not “harmless.” It has both short-term and long-term effects. Unfortunately, it appears most teens don’t realize the risks they are taking when they use weed. If you are concerned about your teen because you know they have smoked weed or are aware they’re showing some of the signs and symptoms of it, it is wise to reach out to a mental health professional to help see what’s going on.
Mary Overstreet, LAPC