After Legalization: teenagers and pot

This is fantastic information shared via Center for Advanced Recovery Solutions. –Debbie Bayer

Now that marijuana is legal in Washington State, will its use increase because it will be perceived as no big deal? Or will use go down because the taboo factor will be erased? Parents already face an uphill battle convincing their teens that marijuana poses risks to their health and well-being. Will legalizing marijuana increase the challenge?

Even before the vote to legalize, the majority of Washington high school students didn’t see much risk to trying marijuana a couple of times. But one of the biggest mistakes parents of teens can make is to believe that they no longer have influence on their kids. Even though it’s hard to believe, amidst all of the eye-rolling, foot-stomping and stone-walling that goes on in the homes of teenagers, parents are still the most influential role model.

Teens who believe their parents strongly disapprove of drug use are less likely to use drugs than are teens who don’t think their parents have such strong feelings. A 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that past month marijuana use was much less prevalent among youths (4%) who perceived strong parental disapproval for trying marijuana or hashish once or twice than among those who did not (33%).

As parents, educators and healthcare professionals, we don’t need to demonize marijuana to help our kids avoid it. As a therapist who works with parents of teens, I encourage parents to talk about marijuana similar to alcohol use: “while you are a teenager its unsafe, against the rules in our family and against the law.”

The teenage brain is still developing and vulnerable to harm from marijuana and alcohol, much of which can be avoided if kids wait until they are adults to begin using them recreationally. Further, for teenagers there has been no change in the legality of using marijuana – it is still illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to grow, sell or possess marijuana and the driving limit for youth under the age of 21 is zero.

If anything, the vote to legalize marijuana presents an opportunity for parents to speak to their teens about marijuana, alcohol and other drugs. Share your values, set expectations and reach out for help if you need it.

Not sure how to articulate your concerns about teens smoking pot? Here is what the research says about the risks that marijuana poses to teens and young adults.

  • Youth who smoke pot are about twice as likely to have lower grades (C’s, D’s, F’s) than students who don’t smoke.
  • A recent study showed that adults who had begun regular marijuana use as teenagers saw an average eight point decline in IQ by the time they were 38 years old. Interestingly, this same loss in IQ was not seen in those who did not begin marijuana use until their adult years.
  • Despite the assertion of many teenagers, marijuana is considered an addictive drug. In fact, among youth receiving substance abuse treatment, marijuana abuse accounts for the largest percentage of admissions. One Washington treatment center says that the see the highest incidence of people leaving AMA are those being treated for marijuana abuse. Frequent smokers may experience withdrawal symptoms including cravings, irritability and sleep problems.
  • The age at which a person begins using alcohol, marijuana and other drugs greatly affects their risk of becoming addicted to those substances, another reason to set firm expectations with your teen that they abstain from drug and alcohol use, at least before adulthood. Adults who first used marijuana before age 15 are about five times as likely to have a drug addiction as an adult than those who first used marijuana after age 18.

Read more about the warning signs of drug abuse on the CARES website.