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The Marijuana Debate and Teens

Beth Hess - Monday, July 17, 2017
Amid the loosening of laws related to marijuana, including the legalization of marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes in some states, there has been a lot of conversation about how it will impact youth. One fear is that de-criminalization and legalization will convey to youth the message that marijuana use is acceptable, and cause an increase in its use among adolescents.

Data is available to examine changes after new marijuana policies were enacted. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that nationally between 2011 and 2016, marijuana use among 8th and 10th graders significantly declined, while it remained unchanged among 12th graders. Although there is a higher rate of marijuana use among 12th graders in states with medical marijuana laws compared to states without them, after legalization in Colorado, teen marijuana use dropped sharply: a decline of 12%. Thus far, it appears that predictions of an increase in teen marijuana use with new laws have not born out.

At the same time, however, teen attitudes towards marijuana use have softened. Fewer teens think that there is anything wrong with using marijuana, or that it possesses any negative health consequences. While this may be true for adults, studies suggest that it may not be true for youth. There is evidence that marijuana use may harm the developing teen brain, causing difficulty thinking and problem solving, along with problems in memory and learning. The earlier and heavier the use, the greater the risks.

If you are a parent, it is important for you to have a conversation with your child about marijuana use and the risks it carries for teens. Some parents may be reluctant to bring up the topic owing to their own past experience. The National Institute on Drug Abuse advises: “Even if you have used drugs in the past, you can have an open conversation about the dangers. Whether or not you tell your child about your past drug use is a personal decision. But experience can better equip us to teach others by drawing on the value of past mistakes. You can explain that marijuana is significantly more potent now and that we now know a lot more about the potential harmful effects of marijuana on the developing brain.”

While more states are moving to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and there is every indication that this will happen, it is critically important that parents continue to have straight conversations with their children about the risks of teen marijuana use.

Click for additional tips on talking with your child.


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