With 4/20—the unofficial marijuana holiday on April 20th—on the horizon, it’s time to reclaim the day as a chance to help our children understand marijuana’s harmful effects for young people. As parents, our children look to us for help and guidance in working out problems and in making decisions, including the decision not to use drugs. Since more than 45 percent of U.S. teens will have tried marijuana at least once in their lifetime by the time they finish high school, we have our work cut out for us. We need to be aware of the current research on marijuana and share it in a way that makes sense. Rather than using scare tactics or punishment, we need to arm our teens with factual information.

Fact: Marijuana Is NOT Safer Than Other Drugs

A common misperception among teens is that marijuana is safer to use than alcohol and other drugs. When discussing marijuana with your teen, knowing the consequences of underage use is a helpful prevention tool. Marijuana has negative effects on attention, memory, and learning that can persist after the drug’s immediate effects wear off, especially in people who use regularly.

Fact: Marijuana Can Be Addictive

Despite conventional wisdom, repeated marijuana use can lead to addiction, which means your child could have trouble quitting even if it’s having a negative impact on their life. People who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults. Among youth receiving substance use disorder treatment, marijuana accounts for the largest percentage of admissions—almost 50 percent among those 12 to 17 years old.

Fact: Marijuana Is Unsafe if You’re Behind the Wheel

Marijuana can double a driver’s chances of being in a crash—and the combination of marijuana and alcohol is even more dangerous. Marijuana impairs judgment and safe driving skills, such as alertness, concentration, coordination, and reaction time. Plus, marijuana use makes it difficult to judge distances and react to signals and sounds on the road.

Fact: Marijuana Is Linked to Some Mental Illness

Although research hasn’t shown exactly how the use of marijuana impacts the development of mental illness, high doses can bring on panic attacks or sometimes acute psychosis. Evidence suggests that early marijuana use can increase the risk of psychotic disorders among those at higher genetic risk. Check out our past blog post, Marijuana and Teen Emotion Health, to learn more.

Fact: Marijuana Potency Has Increased in the Past Few Decades

Potency—the amount of THC contained in marijuana—has increased as marijuana farmers respond to market demand. These findings are based on analyses of marijuana samples seized by law enforcement. Today’s marijuana is very different from what you might have used as a youth. This means that there is a greater risk for addiction if teens are exposing themselves to high doses on a regular basis.

How to Talk to Your Teen About Marijuana

Talking openly with your teen and staying actively engaged in their life will help prevent underage marijuana use. Even if you used drugs in the past, you can have an open conversation about the potential harm. Whether or not you tell your child about your past drug use is a personal decision. But experience can better equip us to teach our children by drawing on the value of our past mistakes. You can explain that marijuana is significantly more potent now and that we know much more about the potential harmful effects of marijuana on the developing teen brain.

Tips for Parents From NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse)

  • Be a good listener.
  • Set clear expectations about drug and alcohol use, including real consequences for not following family rules.
  • Help your child deal with peer pressure to use drugs. Practice how to say no, so they are ready if the situation arises.
  • Get to know your child’s friends and their parents.
  • Monitor your child’s whereabouts.
  • Supervise teen activities.
  • Talk to your child often.