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As parents navigating the challenges of raising teenagers in today’s world, it’s crucial to stay informed about the substances that may tempt our children, particularly marijuana, which many teens perceive as harmless. However, this perception couldn’t be further from the truth. In this blog from the Hanley Foundation, we’ll draw on insights from medical experts to shed light on the real dangers of marijuana use among adolescents. We’ll provide parents with valuable information to recognize the signs of drug use, understand its potential health and legal consequences, and offer guidance on supporting their teens through any resulting challenges in school, health, or legal matters.

Adverse Effects of Marijuana Use

Parents may underestimate their teen’s involvement in risky behaviors, including marijuana use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides statistics on its use that may surprise you. As recently as 2022, marijuana use among adolescents was 30.7% of high school students in the past year. With this stat in mind, let’s look at some of the adverse effects that marijuana can have on your child. Immediate effects include altered perception and cognitive impairment, with long-term dangers of addiction, mental health disorders, and respiratory issues. Hanley Foundation encourages parents to be vigilant in addressing misconceptions, providing education, and supporting healthier choices.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the brain doesn’t develop significantly until around age 25, making teens more vulnerable to the detrimental effects of marijuana usage. Adolescents who use marijuana may have difficulty with cognitive processes such as problem-solving and memory, as well as decreased coordination and attention spans. Furthermore, marijuana use during adolescence has been linked to a variety of adverse effects, including an increased risk of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, even in some, schizophrenia.

Marijuana’s Short-Term Dangers

As parents, it’s crucial to recognize the signs of marijuana misuse among teens. Here are the short-term dangers to watch out for:

  • Altered Perception: Marijuana distorts sensory perception, impairing judgment and decision-making.
  • Anxiety and Paranoia: Some teens may experience acute anxiety or paranoia, particularly at higher doses.
  • Cognitive Impairment: Marijuana can immediately affect short-term memory, concentration, and problem-solving abilities.
  • Impaired Coordination: Teens may experience reduced coordination and motor skills, increasing the risk of accidents.
  • Increased Heart Rate: Marijuana use can temporarily elevate heart rate, posing risks for those with heart conditions.

For teens with a driver’s license and access to a vehicle, driving impaired by marijuana use alone or combined with other substances can make driving extremely dangerous and lead to serious legal repercussions.

Marijuana’s Long-Term Dangers

  • Addiction: Approximately 1 in 10 marijuana users develop dependence, marked by withdrawal symptoms and compulsive drug-seeking behavior.
  • Cognitive Decline: Long-term use is associated with persistent cognitive impairments, including memory and learning deficits.
  • Mental Health Disorders: Chronic use increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and even psychosis development.
  • Respiratory Issues: Regular smoking leads to problems like chronic bronchitis and heightened lung infection risk.
  • Social and Occupational Impairments: Chronic use hampers social relationships, academic performance, and work productivity.

Signs of Use

Detecting whether your child is covertly smoking marijuana or using another kind of cannabis involves close monitoring of them and candid conversations with them. Look for telltale indications such as behavioral changes, mood swings, irregular sleeping patterns, and poor academic performance. Pay alert to physical symptoms such as bloodshot eyes, increased appetite (often known as “the munchies”), and the odor of marijuana on clothing or in their personal space. Be attuned to changes in their social circle, hobbies, and interests, as well as any unexplained shifts in mood or demeanor.

Talking to Your Teen about Marijuana

Navigating the complexities of discussing marijuana use with your teen can be difficult. With the following steps, you can approach the conversation confidently, ensuring a constructive and supportive dialogue to promote informed decision-making and protect your teen’s well-being.

Step 1: Set the Stage
Create a comfortable and non-judgmental environment where your teen feels safe to discuss sensitive topics.

Step 2: Initiate the Conversation
Gently broach the topic by expressing your concerns about their well-being and mentioning your willingness to listen without judgment.

Step 3: Establish Understanding
Encourage your teen to share their baseline knowledge and beliefs about marijuana, addressing common misconceptions such as its “natural” status, making it safe to use, or the implications of its legalization in some states.

Step 4: Provide Education
Offer factual information from sources such as the CDC about the risks and potential harms associated with marijuana use, debunking myths and emphasizing the importance of making informed choices.

Step 5: Discuss Addiction
Acknowledge that while some may perceive marijuana as relatively harmless, addiction remains a real and significant risk, regardless of its legal status.

Step 6: Encourage Open Dialogue
Promote ongoing communication and encourage your teen to ask questions, express concerns, and share their thoughts openly.

Step 7: Offer Support
Reassure your teen that you are there to support them, whether they choose to abstain from marijuana or seek help for any issues they may be facing.

Step 8: Set Clear Expectations
Establish clear boundaries and expectations regarding substance use, emphasizing the importance of making responsible choices and prioritizing their health and well-being.

Step 9: Follow Up
Regularly check in with your teen to gauge their understanding, address new questions or concerns, and reinforce your support and guidance.

Hanley Foundation is devoted to reshaping the narrative of addiction through prevention, advocacy, treatment, and recovery. For over three decades, our comprehensive prevention education programs have positively impacted Florida’s communities, making us the state’s largest prevention services provider. Proudly operating Hanley Center and Headwaters, our Palm Beach facilities offer private, confidential, and personalized addiction and mental health care, surrounded by a tranquil tropical setting promoting healing and recovery.