Teen marijuana use may seem like a normal part of the high school experience. How many of us know someone who uses or have personally have tried a blunt, a bowl, or a hit off of a friend’s bong?  I remember growing up and hearing my uncle talk about smoking a ‘joint’ with nostalgia as he recalled the 1970’s.  Well, marijuana is still extremely popular and when asked, many teens think it’s healthier than smoking cigarettes. However, marijuana can have major impacts on health and mood.

Among students in high school, nearly 21% have used marijuana at least once in the past month.  Marijuana is widely available and relatively easy to get.  Many teens who use marijuana regularly have also tried other drugs, such as ecstasy or mix smoking marijuana with alcohol use. This combination can lead to devastating consequences if, for example, a teen drives a car while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Popular movies and TV shows frequently refer to marijuana use as if it’s normal and perfectly acceptable (have you seen the movie Friday or watched That 70’s Show?), yet rarely portray any of the dangers. The harmful health effects of marijuana include worsening of lung function, lack of motivation, increased appetite, poor concentration, poor sleep, and even gynecomastia (or breast tissue development) in males. Marijuana use (not including medical marijuana) is against the law.  If caught with marijuana in their possession, teens can have charges that become part of a permanent criminal record.

There are warning signs of substance abuse parents can watch out for, which include:

  • social withdrawal from friends
  • declining grades
  • lack of motivation to participate in activities they previously enjoyed
  • sneaking out and lying to parents about whereabouts
  • Missing money/stealing
  • Friends who use drugs

What parents can do:

  • Talk with your teens early about your expectations.  Discuss consequences for not following the rules and boundaries you set.  Allow your teen’s input for what those consequences might be and follow through with them if your teen breaks the rules.
  • If you notice warning signs, ask your teen about them, though try to be non-confrontational. Let them know you love them and are concerned, then tell them what concerns you.
  • Talk with your teen’s health care provider as there are options for substance abuse treatment in most major cities.

Though marijuana use may be common and is often portrayed in the media as a ‘normal’ part of being a teen, it can have adverse health effects.  Keep communication open with your teen and if you’re worried that they are using marijuana, let them know why you’re concerned.  If your teen is using so much it is impacting their life (such as failing grades, withdrawal from friends, or criminal prosecution) talk with your teen’s medical provider about treatment options for substance abuse.