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March 2022

Talking with Teens About Marijuana

As more states legalize the recreational use of marijuana for those 21 and older, teens are trying it more often. In fact, marijuana use among teens is at its highest level in 3 decades.

Just because it’s legal in some places doesn’t mean it’s safe—especially for young people.

Potential problems include:

  • Issues with memory, learning, and concentration

  • Breathing problems, such as coughing and wheezing

  • Negative effect on driving skills, including reaction time and judgment

  • Negative effect on athletic skills, such as timing and coordination

  • Increased anxiety and paranoia

What parents should know

Marijuana goes by many names: pot, weed, herb, grass, cannabis, and more. It also comes in many forms. You can smoke the dried plant in a joint (a rolled cigarette), pipe, or bong. You can smoke a liquid or wax version through an electronic cigarette, known as vaping. You can brew a tea and drink it. And then there are many appealing edibles, including baked goods, gummies, candies, and chocolate bars.

Many teens believe marijuana is safe because it’s not addictive. This is not necessarily true. People can become dependent on marijuana and develop something called cannabis use disorder. This can cause withdrawal symptoms, including changes in mood, sleep, and appetite. People who begin using marijuana before age 18 are up to seven times more likely than adults to develop a drug problem. They are also less likely than their peers to finish high school or get a college degree.

It’s worth noting that the amount of THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes people high, has been increasing for many years. There can be 2 to 3 times more THC in a plant than there used to be.

How to talk with your kids

Start talking with your kids about marijuana when they’re in late elementary and early middle school. They’re less apt to try it if they know how you feel about it. Set a good example by avoiding marijuana use yourself.

Go over the risks. Explain that marijuana changes the way the brain works. Because our brains don’t finish developing until our 20s, using as a teen can cause problems that adults may not experience.

Share that everyone responds differently. Some people may feel relaxed, while others become paranoid and struggle to breathe. Although it’s rare, people can even experience psychosis. This is when they have trouble understanding what’s real, and it can be scary.

When kids understand the dangers and know they have your support, they’re in a better position to make good choices.


Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2021
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