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Why Your Teen May Think Pot is No Big Deal

It seems like today’s teens are growing up in a culture that condones the use of pot. And with several states legalizing marijuana, teens are receiving mixed messages about using the drug.

Now, before launching into a litany of reasons why teens should not use pot, it should be noted that, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teens aren’t engaging in as many risky behaviors as their parents did at the same age. Also, the majority of teens aren’t using drugs at all. Although teens may be making smarter decisions when it comes to drinking and having sex, marijuana use continues to be an area of concern.

With nearly 60 percent of high school seniors reporting marijuana is safe, it is evident they don’t fully understand the repercussions of the drug.

Two Main Reasons Teens Think Marijuana’s Not a Big Deal

  • It’s Legal: The legalization of marijuana in some states has made the drug more accessible to teens. Additionally, as marijuana seems to be more common, attitudes about the drug are beginning to change. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the less harmful teens believe a drug to be, the more likely they are to try it. Plus, there is a mindset that if something is legal, then it can’t be all bad. Although there are studies that indicate the legalization of marijuana has not led to an increase in teen usage, there are still questions as to why every other drug category, except for marijuana has experienced a decline. Some would assume that legalization is changing how pot is perceived in the teen culture.
  • It’s Safe: Many teens believe that marijuana is safer than alcohol or other drugs. In a study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 77% of teens (ages 12 to 17) report that smoking pot once a month poses no great health risk. Clearly, the perception of the dangers of marijuana is changing and as a result, teens don’t view it as being harmful. A 2016 study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (Monitoring the Future) found that marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug among teens. Furthermore, the results indicated that for seniors, the number of youth smoking pot has steadily increased since 2011.

Three Things Teens Need to Know About Marijuana

  • It is stronger than in the past. According to research in Biological Psychiatry, today’s marijuana is more potent than what people were smoking 20 years ago. THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and other major cannabinoids found in pot have consistently increased from approximately 4% in 1995 to nearly 12% in 2014. According to researchers, marijuana’s increase in potency poses higher health risks, particularly among adolescents.
  • It damages the brain. During adolescence, the brain undergoes significant physical, psychological and functional changes and marijuana abuse can affect that development. Prolonged adolescent pot use has been associated with concentration and working memory problems. It has also been linked to impairments in problem solving abilities. These memory problems can result in poor academic and work performance. Plus, research shows the earlier teens are exposed to marijuana, the more profound the effects are on brain development.
  • It’s not good for your body. The American College of Pediatricians reports marijuana is an addicting drug that has adverse effects upon the adolescent brain development, and it is a risk for both cardio-respiratory disease and testicular cancer. The National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens reports that when teens smoke marijuana it can take a toll on the body, by increasing heart rates, causing respiratory problems, and increasing the risk for mental health problems, like depression. Additionally, marijuana remains in the body for several days after it is used and can affect the ability to focus and make decisions.

Four Ways for Parents to Address Teen Marijuana Use

  • Discuss your expectations. Parent-child communication is vital in deterring drug use. Research shows that when parents set clear expectations, teens are less likely to use drugs.
  • Stick to the facts. Teens are notorious for pulling up something on the internet and then quoting it to justify their stance. But are they pulling up credible and reliable sources? Drug promotional sites are a dime a dozen online and they often cite (if they cite) unreliable sources to support their pro-drug claims. While the Internet can provide an abundance of good information, it can also provide a lot of deceitful and inaccurate information. And let’s face it, once teens discover a site supporting their opinion, they most likely aren’t going to search for an opposing view, nor will they question the source. Parents and educators need to teach youth to critically search out and analyze information from reliable sources before jumping to a potentially erroneous conclusion.
  • Get involved. The teen years are a time for independence and autonomy, but that doesn’t mean parents can’t continue to bond with their child. Parents need to be actively involved in their teen’s life. Research has shown that when parents and teens have a good relationship, they are less likely to use drugs because they don’t want to disappoint their parents.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Once expectations are set, parents must walk a fine line between adhering to the rules and having a trusting relationship. It’s important for teens to feel comfortable going to a trusted adult to discuss tough topics, such as sex and drugs. Open candid discussions can lead to a preventative educational dialogue. Good parent-child communication begins with a little less talk and a whole lot of listening. As for good adolescent and parent relationships, Stephen Covey says it best, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”



Images Courtesy of iStock

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