How Teens Perceive Marijuana

Looking at pot use from a teen perspective.

Posted Dec 09, 2017

Luciano De polo/Deposit Photos
Source: Luciano De polo/Deposit Photos

It seems like today’s teens are growing up in a culture that condones the use of pot. And with several states legalizing marijuana, teens are receiving mixed messages about using the drug.

Now, before launching into a litany of reasons why teens should not use pot, it should be noted that, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teens aren’t engaging in as many risky behaviors as their parents did at the same age. Also, the majority of teens aren’t using drugs at all. Although teens seem to be making smarter decisions when it comes to drinking and sex, marijuana use continues to be an area of concern.

With nearly 60 percent of high school seniors reporting marijuana is safe, it is evident they don’t fully understand the repercussions of the drug.

Two Reasons Teens May Think Marijuana’s Not a Big Deal

1. It’s legal. The legalization of marijuana in some states has made the drug more accessible to teens. Additionally, as marijuana seems to be more common, attitudes about the drug are beginning to change. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports if teens don't perceive a drug as harmful, they are more likely to try it. Plus, there is a mindset that if something is legal, then it can’t be too bad for you. 

2. It’s safe. Many teens believe that marijuana is safer than alcohol or other drugs. In a study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 77 percent of teens (ages 12 to 17) reported that smoking pot once a month poses no great health risk. A 2016 study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (Monitoring the Future) found that marijuana was one of the most commonly used drugs among teens. 

Piotr Marcinski/Deposit Photos
Source: Piotr Marcinski/Deposit Photos

Three Things Teens Need to Know About Marijuana

1. It is stronger today than in the past. According to research in Biological Psychiatry, today’s marijuana is more potent than what people were smoking 20 years ago. THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and other major cannabinoids found in pot have consistently increased from approximately 4 percent in 1995 to nearly 12 percent in 2014. According to researchers, marijuana’s increase in potency poses greater health risks.

2. It damages the brain. During adolescence, the brain undergoes significant physical, psychological, and functional changes, and marijuana abuse can affect that development. Prolonged adolescent pot use has been associated with concentration and working memory problems. It has also been linked to impairments in problem-solving abilities. These memory problems can result in poor academic and work performance. Plus, the earlier teens are exposed to marijuana, the more profound the effects are on brain development.

3. It can lead to health problems. The American College of Pediatricians reports marijuana is an addicting drug that has adverse effects upon the adolescent brain, and it's a risk factor for both cardio-respiratory disease and testicular cancer. The National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens reports that when teens smoke marijuana, it can take a toll on the body by increasing heart rates, causing respiratory problems, and increasing the risk for mental health problems. 

Luciano De polo/Deposit Photos
Source: Luciano De polo/Deposit Photos

Four Ways for Parents to Address Teen Marijuana Use

1. Set expectations. Parent-child communication is vital in deterring drug use. When parents set clear expectations, teens are less likely to use drugs.

2. Stick to the facts. Teens are notorious for pulling up something on the Internet and then quoting it to justify their stance. But are they pulling up credible and reliable sources? While the Internet can provide an abundance of good information, it can also provide a lot of deceitful and inaccurate information. And let’s face it, once teens discover a site supporting their opinion, they most likely aren’t going to search for an opposing view, nor will they question the source. Parents and educators need to teach youth to critically search out and analyze information from reliable sources before jumping to a potentially erroneous conclusion.

3. Get involved. The teen years are a time for independence and autonomy, but that doesn’t mean parents can’t continue to bond with their child. Parents need to be actively involved in their teen’s life. When parents and teens have good relationships, teens are less likely to use drugs, because they don’t want to disappoint their parents.

4. Keep the lines of communication open. Once expectations are set, parents must walk a fine line between adhering to the rules and having a trusting relationship. It’s important for teens to feel comfortable going to a trusted adult to discuss tough topics, such as sex and drugs. Open, candid discussions can lead to a preventative, educational dialogue. Good parent-child communication begins with a little less talk and a whole lot of listening. As for a good adolescent and parent relationship, Stephen Covey says it best, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. Rockville, Md: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2014. NSDUH Series H-48; HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863.

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids at – offers information for parents that includes descriptions, short term and long-term effects, federal classifications and much more.