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​The Normalization of Marijuana and Why Parents Must Talk to Teens and Young Adults Now

With the growth of legalized medical and recreational marijuana comes the perception of safety and even health benefits among today’s youth. The issue of marijuana is all the more critical as the country reached a turning point this year – the majority of states have either decriminalized or legalized marijuana to some degree. Even though these laws are specific to adults, we have significant concerns that as a society we’re essentially “normalizing” marijuana use, which sends a dangerous message to teens and young adults that it is benign when marijuana can actually be harmful to the developing brain.

The 2016 Monitoring the Future (MTF) annual survey results released Tuesday by University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research reflect that teen alcohol and drug behaviors continue to trend downwards – which is exciting because it shows prevention efforts are making a difference. However, the survey also indicates marijuana use remains prevalent. The MTF survey measures drug use and attitudes among eighth, 10th, and 12th graders, and is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The survey showed among high school seniors, 22.5% report past month marijuana use and 6% report daily use; both measures remained relatively consistent with last year’s report. Similarly, rates of marijuana use in the past year among 10th graders remained stable compared to 2015. There also continues to be a higher rate of marijuana use among 12th graders in states with medical marijuana laws, compared to states without them. For example, in 2016, 38.3% of high school seniors in states with medical marijuana laws reported past year marijuana use, compared to 33.3% in non-medical marijuana states. The survey also indicates marijuana and e-cigarettes are more popular than regular cigarettes.

At Caron, we know marijuana continues to play a major role in the addictive behavior of teens and young adult patients. Our data shows from 2012 to 2016 teens/young adults were twice as likely to identify marijuana as a drug of choice compared to adults. From January 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016, 252 patients under the of age 18 were admitted into treatment and 92.1% listed cannabis as a drug of choice.

We also see through our extensive prevention programming teens are likely to perceive marijuana as less harmful than other drugs. There isn’t a lot of negative stigma about marijuana and students find it easier to access than alcohol. There’s also a misperception it’s non-addictive. In recent years, it has also become much more socially acceptable. Whereas there used to be cultural references to “potheads” – we commonly see athletes and high achieving students medicating with marijuana to help them to focus or to relax. Some students with ADHD or other mental health disorders have said they prefer marijuana to their prescribed medications.

There are clearly considerable implications from these perceptions and we encourage parents to take time to educate themselves and to speak to their children about marijuana. Parents can help them understand that despite what they may see in popular culture or absorb through social media – marijuana is still very dangerous and there are serious and potentially long-term consequences. Here are some suggested talking points:

  • Do not minimize the risks of using marijuana.
    • It’s important not to assume most kids are using the drug – a study reports 65-75% of high school seniors are not. Don’t dismiss marijuana as a less serious drug; it can be as harmful as other drugs. It’s important not to indicate marijuana is a rite a passage, because it’s not.
    • Regular marijuana use can exacerbate existing mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, worsening the symptoms.
    • Smoking marijuana rolled with tobacco can negatively impact athletic performance and increase the risk of developing cancer.
    • Point out that the percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes who recently used marijuana more than doubled from eight to 17% between 2013 and 2014.
    • Emphasize what drug use can do to your teen’s future. Discuss how substance use can ruin your student’s chance of excelling in class, athletics, or landing their dream internship. Although some research results on this topic are mixed, studies associate regular marijuana use at a young age with an average loss of eight IQ points.
  • Provide clear and consistent messaging about marijuana.
    • With the influx of information kids are getting from the media and the internet, it’s easy to be confused about the perceived risks of marijuana; Parents need to be the consistent voice to clearly convey a no use policy and stress the harmful consequences of using marijuana. There isn’t clear and sufficient evidence it is safe.
    • Find teachable moments and start the conversation with questions such as: How do you feel when you hear about kids using drugs? What would you say if a group tried to pressure you and your friends to use marijuana or other drugs? Take the time to listen to your child’s thoughts and lean in to the things that will motivate them to continue to make positive choices.
    • If your child asks and you did use marijuana during college, respond honestly, but. don’t go into detail or glamourize past use.

  • Calmly confront your child if you suspect he/she is using marijuana.
    • If you find paraphernalia that may indicate they’re using marijuana, don’t be accusatory – have a calm, open conversation about what you found.
    • If you suspect your child is using marijuana by noticing changes in their behavior, such as more frequent use of eye drops, use of new fragrances, and new spending trends, it’s important to have an honest conversation about how it may negatively impact them physically and emotionally.

  • Don’t Wait to Get Help
    • If you suspect your child is using marijuana, we recommend taking them for a behavioral health evaluation. They could be using it to medicate an underlying mental health issue. The earlier you address your concerns, the better your child’s chance of getting the support they need to either prevent them from developing an addiction or begin treatment if necessary.
Featured Staff
Vice President of Education
Tammy Granger oversees Caron’s Student Assistance Program and Campus Engagement Departments.