Ten Tips for Teenagers and Parents: Understanding Adolescent Marijuana Use

December 30th, 2009

Dr. Ponton’s editorial, “Not the Right Prescription,” appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on Dec.31, 2009.

  1. All teenagers take risks as a normal part of growing up. Risk-taking is the tool an adolescent uses to define and develop his or her identity, and healthy risk-taking is a valuable experience.
  2. Most adolescents try marijuana with their friends. Over forty percent* of teenagers report that they have tried it. They are often unaware of the dangers that this drug poses for them.
  3. Brain growth and development continues throughout life but there is a period of rapid growth in adolescence which continues through mid twenties, slowing down at approximately 25 years. Many substances, including marijuana, negatively affect brain development.  Used habitually, the chemical balance of the brain is disrupted with marijuana. An adolescent’s ability to learn, remember, and adapt quickly to changes is affected adversely.
  4. Serious negative side effects of marijuana use affecting adolescents are diminished passion and motivation for life. Outgoing teens can become withdrawn. Grades in school can fall. Teenagers can lose interest in most activities. Parents may not be aware that their son or daughter who is losing motivation is also using marijuana. This is called a motivated syndrome.
  5. Adolescents who have serious psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or other mental health issues are extremely vulnerable to marijuana use resulting in a worsening of their symptoms. Initially, these teenagers may report a decrease in anxiety with marijuana, but this is followed by a decline in their overall functioning.
  6. Marijuana is psychologically addictive. Many teenagers need help to stop using it. Marijuana symptoms include withdrawal and a compulsive craving for the drug. Both psychological and substance abuse treatments aid in stopping it.
  7. Teenagers and their parents can contact the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) for information about marijuana abuse and treatment.
  8. During the last two decades marijuana grown in the United States has increased its percentage of THC – Tetrahydrocannabinol – by more than 10 times. Many teenagers and their parents do not recognize how potent marijuana is.
  9. Marijuana use negatively affects a young person’s ability to make wise decisions about other risks. Marijuana use is frequently found clustered with other unhealthy risks and other symptoms.
  10. Symptoms of marijuana use include but are not limited to decreased motivation, drop in grades, red eyes, decreased attention span and ability to focus, cough, increased respiratory infections, higher risks of developing psychosis, increased heart and respiration rates leading to quicker aging.

*Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know. National Institutes of Health. 2006.