Is There Proof that Marijuana Causes Permanent Harm in Adolescents?

Young adult girl is depressed

Marijuana – It’s the subject of heated debate and constant argument over its risks, harmful aspects, and adverse side effects. For decades marijuana has been an issue of concern among the American people. Even as several states have legalized the substance for recreational use, there is still a debate over its legitimacy and whether it’s something Americans want to accept into their lives.

These debates have merit and should continue on any available public platform. Why? There is irrefutable evidence of risks and harm resulting from experimenting with cannabis, particularly for young people. Case in point, recent research suggests that young people may experience permanent damage from using marijuana.

Marijuana’s Unique Effect on Young People

Without getting too far into the technical jargon or neuroscience of the research, a new study provides compelling evidence that the use of cannabis among young people may cause unique, possibly permanent and potentially serious harm. The implications of this information regarding the behavioral development of young people are problematic. If smoking pot in the teen years has the potential for adverse, possibly permanent changes in behavior, what does this mean for the future of youths who use cannabis?

The new research suggests that smoking pot in the teen years may affect behavioral development in reasoning, decision-making skills, memory, inhibition, judgment, attention, emotional regulation, learning abilities and cognitive function in these teens. The research also showed that the more often individuals used cannabis in their youth, the more significant and noticeable the long-term impacts were.

“I would say if they study it long enough, they probably will see more changes in reaction time, impairment, memory formation...”

The researchers and their peers urged caution regarding the legalization of marijuana, insisting that marijuana policy was outpacing marijuana research. Quoting one substance abuse treatment expert, Dr. Scott Krakower, “I would say if they study it long enough, they probably will see more changes in reaction time, impairment, memory formation. All of those things are going to come about the longer you study this. Policy may be outpacing science. Further research is desperately needed. There is a lot of evidence suggesting that this developmental window that’s occurring during adolescence may be a particularly vulnerable time for substance use.”

The Effects of Smoking Pot – What Happens When a Young Person Uses Cannabis

Trouble with srudy

There is no doubt that smoking pot causes harm and that the damage is potentially worse for young people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list several areas of life that are adversely affected when young people use cannabis, including the following:

  • Marijuana can cause difficulty with thinking and problem-solving.
  • When young people use cannabis, it can create problems with memory and learning.
  • Young people may also experience impaired coordination or difficulty maintaining attention.
  • Frequent marijuana use among young people is linked to higher rates of school dropout and lower educational achievement.
  • When young people use marijuana, it can cause a range of mental health and behavioral issues, including depression, anxiety, psychosis, and difficulty concentrating.
  • According to CDC data, young people can also become addicted to marijuana, evidenced by repeated yet unsuccessful efforts to quit using marijuana.

The more research is performed and published, the more apparent it becomes; Experimenting with marijuana is seriously harmful to young people.

What Parents Need to Know About Marijuana

Child in a hospital, parents crying

Most parents probably feel that marijuana is harmful to their kids but might not have the complete and up-to-date information as to why.

The above research undeniably paints a grim picture for young people who partake in marijuana. Yet, cannabis is legal in some areas, and this places it in a context that can allude to safety – “It’s not like other drugs.”

So, what do parents need to know?

One thing to know is that the marijuana of today is not the same marijuana that was around in past generations. Some parents may have even used marijuana themselves when younger and don’t recall the experience as harmful. But things are different now.

“The amount of THC in marijuana has increased over the past few decades. In the early 1990s, the average THC content in marijuana was less than 4 percent. It is now about 15 percent and much higher in some products such as oils and other extracts…”

Some experts have theorized that one of the reasons why marijuana is particularly harmful to young people is that the marijuana of today is far more potent than it ever used to be. Quoting the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “The amount of THC in marijuana has increased over the past few decades. In the early 1990s, the average THC content in marijuana was less than 4 percent. It is now about 15 percent and much higher in some products such as oils and other extracts. There have been reports of people seeking help in emergency rooms with symptoms, including nervousness, shaking, and psychosis after consuming high concentrations of THC.”

First, parents need to learn the truth about the current risks of marijuana use for their kids. Once this information is understood, most parents will want to do everything to ensure their children do not experiment with cannabis. This might take some work. The chances are that their kids are already getting information from their peers. What are they hearing? Parents should listen carefully to what their kids think about marijuana. Then, the conversation needs to continue until the child understands the factual information about the risks d consequences of smoking marijuana. As part of the conversation, parents can ask their kids to give examples of what kind of harm or danger they might put themselves in by using marijuana. Finally, parents should explain to their children how marijuana can cause permanent damage.

Parents must also do their best to counter the effects of outside pressures, including peers and society at large. One of the harmful results of marijuana legalization is that people perceive less risk. Even if they “Aren’t old enough to smoke weed,” kids will still perceive less risk with marijuana, simply because it is now legal for adult consumption. Young people will almost inevitably end up discussing this amongst themselves, which is why parents must do their part to counter any false information or positive dialogue about marijuana that may be occurring among their children’s peers.

Prevention is at the heart of solving America’s drug abuse problem. When we prevent one person from using drugs, one less person will need treatment for drug use later up the line. The best prevention efforts start early and within the home, and the best drug educators are often parents. Kids are likely to be open to real, honest, nonjudgmental and caring conversations about why they should stay away from cannabis.


Reviewed and edited by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP, LCDC



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.