Recreational marijuana is now legal in 10 states, and medical marijuana is legal in 33. Globally, cannabis is the most available and most used illegal substance. Cannabis use has become mainstream, and teens who aren’t using it are assuredly aware of it.
Don’t wait for your kids to bring it up. Have family discussions about marijuana. Now that it’s legal in many parts of the country, talking about marijuana is a little like talking about alcohol and cigarettes – both substances which can be dangerous, addictive and even deadly.
Teens and adults alike have some misconceptions about marijuana. Following are some common arguments teens make in favor of marijuana use, and factual responses which can open their eyes about its dangers.
Myths Your Teen Might Believe About Marijuana
Myth #1. Marijuana must be safe, or it wouldn’t be legal.
Legality does not guarantee safety, particularly for adolescents. An adolescent’s brain is developing in key areas until early adulthood and introducing outside chemicals can have a negative impact. Part of adolescence is experiencing and learning to manage overwhelming emotions. Utilizing a substance to “help” with that can negatively impact growth in these areas.
Research has found that adolescent marijuana users had working memory, attention and learning abnormalities that persisted at least six weeks after they stop using, and also found adolescent marijuana users may be more vulnerable to neural dysfunction than adults.1
Myth #2. Since pot isn’t addictive, I can quit any time.
That’s simply not the case. Repeated marijuana use can lead to substance abuse disorders.
Research shows that 30% of people who use marijuana have some level of marijuana use disorder even if they are not addicted.2 People who begin using marijuana before age 18 are more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.3 Of youth receiving substance use disorder treatment, marijuana accounts for 50% of admissions among 12 to 17 year olds.4
Myth #3. Marijuana helps me perform well in school and sports.
Many teens will tell me that they can focus better at school, are more motivated or even better at athletics when under the influence. The data doesn’t support this and often that perception is simply due to the effects of marijuana and not actual outcomes.
People who use marijuana regularly for a long time report decreased overall life satisfaction, including poorer mental and physical health, memory and relationship problems, lower salaries and less career success.5
Myth #4. Smoking pot is safer than drinking.
Marijuana, like alcohol, lowers inhibitions, which can lead to bad decisions and serious consequences.
By itself, marijuana is thought to roughly double a driver's chances of being in a crash, and the combination of marijuana and even small amounts of alcohol is even more dangerous.6,7
Myth #5. It’s just pot, so it’s no big deal.
It is a big deal. We know that the potency of the cannabis out there today has increased. A study from 2016 showed that the cannabis confiscated in 2014 had THC levels three times stronger than what was confiscated in 1995. This combined with the vulnerability of an adolescent brain increases the possibilities of more severe impact from cannabis use for adolescents. Things like paranoia and psychosis are possible in the short term as well as declining school performance, increased risk for mental health issues and impaired driving.
From 2005 to 2010, ED visits involving marijuana use reportedly rose in adolescents aged 15 to 17 in both males and females by 53.6% and 42.9%, respectively. The cause might be the increase in cannabis potency over this time period.8
Myth #6. Adults smoke marijuana. Why can’t I?
Yes, it’s true that some adults smoke marijuana, often for medical reasons or to help with pain. Others may smoke it recreationally, much like having a glass of wine with dinner. I’ve already discussed the risks to the adolescent brain. In addition, underage and illegal use means teens run the risk of immediate legal consequences. They may also be barred from organized school activities, suspended or expelled. A record of substance abuse can affect college, internships and jobs.
As a parent, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. You will likely have more than one conversation with your kids about illegal drugs, drinking and other risky behaviors. Be ready for challenging questions and admit when you don’t have the answers. Remember to be open and non-judgmental, but also have clear values and expectations.
If you are concerned that your child may have a substance use disorder, call (402) 717-HOPE.
1 Sweinsburg A, Brown S, Tapert S, The Influence of Marijuana Use on Neurocognitive Functioning in Adolescents, Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2008 Jan; 1(1): 99–111.
2 Hasin DS, Saha TD, Kerridge BT, et al. Prevalence of Marijuana Use Disorders in the United States Between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015;72(12):1235-1242. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.1858.
3 Winters KC, Lee C-YS. Likelihood of developing an alcohol and cannabis use disorder during youth: association with recent use and age. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2008;92(1-3):239-247. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2007.08.005
4 Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2017). 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, MD.
5 Zwerling C, Ryan J, Orav EJ. The efficacy of preemployment drug screening for marijuana and cocaine in predicting employment outcome. JAMA. 1990;264(20):2639-2643.
6 Biecheler M-B, Peytavin J-F, Sam Group, Facy F, Martineau H. SAM survey on "drugs and fatal accidents": search of substances consumed and comparison between drivers involved under the influence of alcohol or cannabis. Traffic Inj Prev. 2008;9(1):11-21. doi:10.1080/15389580701737561.
7 DRUID Final Report: Work Performed, Main Results and Recommendations. EU DRUID Programme; 2012. http://www.roadsafetyobservatory.com/Evidence/Details/10940.
8 Elsohly M, Mehmedic Z, Foster S, Gon C, Chandra S, Church J, Changes in Cannabis Potency Over the Last 2 Decades (1995–2014): Analysis of Current Data in the United States, Biological Psychiatry, 2016-04-01, Volume 79, Issue 7, Pages 613-619
Originally Published: May 2019. Revised: July 2022.