They’re bright, colorful, cute–and dangerous. Marijuana edibles are so attractive to kids that their accidental consumption by children under six has skyrocketed. In 2020, pediatric cases of marijuana ingestion accounted for more than 40 percent of all human poison exposures. Yikes!
They’re also attractive to stressed-out teens who choose to consume them. What’s scary about this is that the brain is still developing until age 25 and marijuana use can alter a teen’s brain chemistry. Even if you “smoked pot” back in the day with no long-term consequences, today’s marijuana is more potent and addictive than it was just a decade or two ago.
WHAT THC DOES TO THE TEEN BRAIN
The amount of THC (a psychoactive compound that causes harmful health effects) in marijuana has steadily climbed; today’s marijuana has three times the concentration of THC compared to 25 years ago, increasing the impact on the teen brain and the potential for addiction. THC stimulates the brain to release dopamine–the brain’s feel-good messenger–at higher levels than typically observed. The surge of dopamine “teaches” the brain to crave “feeling good”, which helps account for marijuana’s addictive properties.
UNDERSTANDING THE RISKS
Knowing the risks of marijuana use can make it easier to talk about them with your child. The risks and harms of marijuana use by teens include:
- Issues with attention, concentration, problem solving, learning, and memory
- Poor academic and job performance
- Lack of balance and coordination
- Poor judgment and decision-making
- Less life satisfaction
- Relationship problems
- Increased risk of mental issues
- Potential for addiction
LOCAL TEEN USE
In a pre-pandemic study, 17 percent of South Orange County 11th graders reported using marijuana in the past 30 days. This is significantly higher than the state or national average. Even if your child is not among the 17 percent who use, they probably know kids who do and might have more exposure to marijuana than you realize.
HOW TEENS USE MARIJUANA
Marijuana can be consumed in a variety of ways—including smoking, vaping, oils, teas, and edibles. Edibles have become popular among teens because they can be mixed into their favorite foods, such as brownies, cookies, and candy. However, edibles are dangerous because they can lead to overconsumption. Since it takes longer to digest edibles and feel their effects, teens may consume more at one time to expedite that process.
WHY TEENS USE MARIJUANA
The perception of the dangers of marijuana use is declining and, increasingly, teens today do not consider marijuana use a risky behavior. Teens use marijuana for many reasons, including curiosity, peer pressure, and wanting to fit in with friends. Some use it to cope with anxiety, stress, and even depression. Ultimately, many things factor into why some teens decide to use marijuana, including their environment at home, at school, and in the community.
WAYS TO HELP TEENS DECREASE STRESS
By using these techniques (instead of marijuana), teens can begin to manage stress. If your teen talks about, or shows signs of, being overly stressed, a consultation with a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional may be helpful.
- Exercise and eat regularly.
- Get enough sleep and have a good sleep routine.
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
- Learn relaxation exercises (abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation techniques).
- Learn practical coping skills. For example, break a large task into smaller, more attainable tasks.
- Decrease negative self-talk: challenge negative thoughts with alternative, neutral, or positive thoughts. “My life will never get better,” can be transformed into, “I may feel hopeless now, but my life will probably get better if I work at it and get some help.”
- Learn to feel good about doing a competent or “good enough” job rather than demanding perfection from yourself and others.
- Take a break from stressful situations. Activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet can reduce stress.
- Build a network of friends who help you cope in a positive way.
TAKE ACTION: TALK TO YOUR TEEN
Research suggests that one of the most influential factors when a teen is growing up is a strong, open relationship with a parent or caring adult. It’s never too late to start talking with your teen about the risks of marijuana use. As teens age, they make more decisions on their own and face greater temptation and peer pressure. Though it may not seem like it, teens really do hear your concerns.
Here are tips for talking to your teen:
- Check in frequently to see how they are doing
- Choose informal times to talk, such as in the car, during dinner, or while watching TV
- Be clear and consistent about your expectations regarding marijuana and other drug use
- Establish family agreements together for social and extracurricular activities
- Let them know you care and are always there for them
- Continue talking with your teens as they get older
HELP YOUR TEEN CREATE AN “EXIT PLAN”
Help your teen create an “exit plan” in case they are offered or faced with a difficult decision about marijuana. Peer pressure can be powerful, so coming up with realistic action steps and practicing them together in a safe environment will prepare and empower your teen to make good choices when it matters.