Pot, weed, grass, dope: no matter what you call it, marijuana has become a household term in the United States. And no wonder why: marijuana is the second most commonly used drug after alcohol, with 11.8 million adults reported using in a 2018 survey. With its increasing popularity, however, comes more questions about the long-term effects of marijuana usage, especially in teens and young adults.
Over the years, the perception of the risks of cannabis use among teenagers has decreased. Research shows that many adolescents do not see marijuana as a threat—in part due to the legalization of the drug in states like Colorado, California, and Michigan and the normalization of its use in popular culture. From Joe Rogan’s podcast to stoner movies such as “Harold and Kumar” and “Half Baked,” there is no doubt that many teenagers are exposed to marijuana use in the media. But how popular is it actually among this demographic?
According to a 2019 study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the daily use of marijuana increased in students from eighth through twelfth grade, even after these rates stayed stagnant for many years. The same study reported that 20 percent of tenth graders admitted to vaping marijuana in the past year while vaping rates among seniors in high school nearly doubled compared to the year prior. Even more alarming is that many adolescents are under the impression that there are no consequences from cannabis use.
The Impact of Marijuana on Teen Behavior
During adolescence when many developmental changes are occurring, the consequences of marijuana use can be severe. Using marijuana at a young age can have an impact on an individual’s mental capacity and behavior. Some common effects on teen marijuana use include:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty paying attention
- Trouble learning
- Poor decision making
Many of these issues are exposed both in the classroom and outside. Various studies have found that students who use marijuana have a higher likelihood of receiving lower grades compared to students who do not use the drug. Higher risk habits, such as unsafe sexual behaviors, driving under the influence, and criminal behavior have also been linked to teen marijuana usage.
The Impact of Marijuana on Teen Health
In addition to affecting behavior, another concern is the effect that marijuana has on teens’ physical and mental health. Not every side effect is instantaneous—some can appear weeks or even years later, such as schizophrenia and psychosis. Research has suggested that young adults that smoke marijuana every day are five times more likely to develop psychosis than their sober counterparts. Marijuana use can also increase teens’ risk of developing anxiety and depression, particularly if they are predisposed to mental health disorders. The risk of developing other health issues also drastically increases. Among these issues are:
- Chronic cough
- Oral cancers
- Throat cancers
Marijuana and Addiction
Marijuana is a brain-altering addictive substance. For some teens, “casual” marijuana use has the potential to turn into a marijuana use disorder. Nearly 10 percent of cannabis users will become addicted, and adolescents that use marijuana are at a greater risk of developing a substance use disorder later in adulthood.
In a time when the push for marijuana legalization is persistent, many teens are under the impression that marijuana has no consequences and can do no harm. The hard truth? Research shows just the opposite. There is much evidence that adolescent use of marijuana has negative effects on the brain that last through adulthood. From problems at school to ones that follow them home, young adults are particularly prone to issues that arise from persistent marijuana use at an early age.
So, what can be done about this issue? It is important to educate teens about the dangers of drug use from a young age and encourage them to make the right decisions for themselves and their futures. If you notice your child or friend showing signs of marijuana use, don’t hesitate to get help. The longer substance abuse goes untreated, the more dangerous it can become.