Talking to Young People About Marijuana
Recent studies suggest that marijuana use in one’s teen years acts as a predictor for drug addiction. It’s not that marijuana use causes young people to use other drugs. Rather, researchers have shown that teens who use marijuana are more inclined to use other drugs, particularly in their young adult years.
The significance of these findings for parents should be that marijuana is not harmless, as many would have us think. Rather, parents should consider the risk factors of their young sons and daughters experimenting with marijuana. One of the most apparent risks is an increased likelihood of future drug use.
While a cause and effect relationship is not apparent, there is a connection between teen cannabis use and young adult drug use. With that in mind, parents should know how to talk to their kids about marijuana. If parents have this information and apply it by engaging in regular conversations about cannabis with their teens, they may be able to stop addiction from ever coming about in their soon-to-be-adult children.
Teen Cannabis Use – Recent Findings
A March 2021 study published in JAMA Pediatrics noted that younger-age incidences of first-time cannabis use or prescription drug misuse were associated with faster development of addiction to those substances. Put another way, earlier-age initiation of drug use (or first exposure to drugs) was associated with a faster transition to drug addiction or experimentation with more harmful drugs.
The study examined different demographics and age groups, and the researchers measured those study groups based on their current drug use patterns and previous incidences of drug use. The findings demonstrated the vulnerability that young people have to develop drug addiction, particularly when they begin using drugs at a very young age.
For example, the paper found that drug addiction was more common in people who had begun experimenting with cannabis between the ages of 12 and 17 than for people who didn’t begin experimenting with cannabis until they were between the ages of 18 and 25.
“Though not everyone who uses a drug will develop addiction, adolescents may develop addiction to substances faster than young adults…”
Quoting Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the lead study author, “We know that young people are more vulnerable to developing substance use disorders, but knowledge is limited on how the prevalence of specific substance use disorders varies by time since first substance use or misuse among adolescents and young adults in the United States. Though not everyone who uses a drug will develop addiction, adolescents may develop addiction to substances faster than young adults. This study provides further evidence that delaying substance exposure until the brain is more fully developed may lower risk for developing a substance use disorder.”
Parents Should Talk to Their Kids About Cannabis
The research cited above makes a strong claim that if young people can be kept from using marijuana, they may be less likely to develop addiction problems later on in life. This is where parents come in, as parents are, in many ways, a young person’s first line of defense against drug experimentation.
Parents can play the best role in ensuring that their kids do not use cannabis by talking to their kids about it. When young people know the truth about marijuana and the inherent risk factors that come with using marijuana, they are much less likely to experiment with the drug.
Overcoming Marijuana Misconceptions
When young people get their information about marijuana from their peers, it's almost guaranteed that the information will be partially untrue, possibly completely untrue. Following are six misconceptions that teens often have about cannabis and some data on how one might respond to them:
- Misconception: The teen believes that one conversation about marijuana was enough.
- How to respond: It’s impossible to cover all of the information about marijuana in one conversation. And while a parent should not appear to “nag” their teen about marijuana, they should have multiple and different conversations about it.
- Misconception: The teen believes recreational (i.e., weekend) use is no big deal.
- How to respond: Much of the drug-related conversations and discussions that teens have are centered around this idea that only addiction is harmful, whereas moderate, controlled drug use is okay. The truth is, “moderate” drug use is harmful and it leads to even more harmful drug use.
- Misconception: The teen believes marijuana use is safer than drinking alcohol.
- How to respond: Rather than arguing about whether or not marijuana is safer than alcohol, point out that neither marijuana nor alcohol is safe. Both are dangerous and especially damaging to a developing brain.
- Misconception: The teen believes that because their parents tried pot, it’s acceptable that he or she gets the opportunity to experiment.
- How to respond: It is important not to lie to one’s children about one’s own, previous drug use. However, this could also be a good opportunity to talk about how marijuana use was personally harmful to the parent and how they wish they’d never experimented with it.
- Misconception: The teen believes that marijuana cannot be harmful because it is “natural” and “just a plant.”
- How to respond: It’s important to point out that, regardless of how “harmful” marijuana is or is not because of its plant-based origins, it does alter a person’s judgment, and there is always risk present when that occurs.
- Misconception: The teen has only tried marijuana once and claims there were no ill effects.
- How to respond: Damage caused by harmful habits and activities that are not outright fatal tend to be cumulative in nature. For example, no one gets diabetes from eating a single piece of candy, and no one gets lung cancer from a single cigarette. One, solitary use of marijuana may not seem harmful, but cumulative use, over time, is quite harmful.
Parents should have as many conversations as necessary with their kids to ensure they do not experiment with marijuana. In an interview about the unique harm that marijuana can pose to adolescents and why parents must talk to their kids about drugs, Dr. Nora Volkow offered a fitting conclusion to this discussion: “When you take drugs as an adolescent, your vulnerability for addiction is much greater but also drugs participate in ways that can render you more vulnerable to other mental illness.... [P]arents should also be proactive and establish a dialogue with their teenagers and give them opportunities for them to feel fulfilled, because if they are bored then they will be at higher risk for seeking out ways to entertain themselves. And drugs can be one way of getting through it.”
Reviewed by Matt Hawk, BS, CADC-II, ICADC