On January 1, 2016 marijuana will be available in New York State for some health conditions. Media coverage of locations of manufacturing facilities and dispensaries are already triggering confusion among adults and youth.
Parents and professionals need to be informed so they have the words to respond to teens’ questions and misperceptions and make it clear that marijuana use is unhealthy for teens. This is very important because as reported in the 2014 Monitoring the Future Study, even though the use of marijuana declined in 2014, perception of risk also declined. Almost 40 years of research has shown that decreased perception of harm precedes increased use of a drug. Therefore it is concerning that in 2014 the percentages of youth who believe regular marijuana use results in “great harm” physically or in other ways continued its long-term decline by 2.1 percentage points to 58.9% for 8th graders, 1.1 percentage points to 45.4% for 10th graders, and 3.4 percentage points to 36.1% for 12th graders. Now more than ever parents need to counteract this misperception and re-enforce that marijuana is not healthy for adolescents.
The decline in the perception of risk may be the result of the efforts to legalize marijuana or approve medical marijuana for recreational or medical use. In addition, many parents are not aware that the marijuana that is available today is not the same drug that was available when parents were in high school and college. Today’s marijuana has a much higher percentage of THC ( the active ingredient that causes the psychoactive effect) and is more likely to be contaminated with pesticides, bacteria, fungi, butane, and other harmful ingredients (LaFrate, 2015).
Negative Effects For Teens
The increased THC content has increased the likelihood that teens will become addicted meaning that tolerance will develop and anxiety, irritability, reduced appetite, difficulty sleeping, and craving (the signs of marijuana withdrawal) will develop after two weeks of when marijuana use is stopped. Teens in treatment for marijuana use reported an average of 4.5 to 6.0 withdrawal symptoms after two weeks of total abstinence from marijuana (Budney, 2011). However, parents should know that teens who use at least three times a week don’t experience withdrawal on days that they don’t use because the marijuana stays in their system and their brain is still under the influence.
The differences in nervous system development is one fact in explaining why 1 in 12 adults who try marijuana become addicted but 1 in 6 adolescents become addicted (NIDA, 2011). Developmental differences are also the reason why adolescents who drink alcohol before 15 are much more likely to become alcoholic than if they begin drinking at 21 (Grant & Dawson, 1998).
In addition to marijuana addiction, even teens who are not addicted often make harmful decisions after using the drug. Teens report anecdotally to counselors and other professionals that they are using marijuana and driving, engaging in unprotected sexual activities, losing interest in school and community activities, and not doing as well academically.
Considerations for Parents
Parents who tried or experimented with marijuana when they were young may not view their teen’s use as harmful. The difference in THC content between the marijuana of the 80’s and 90’s and the marijuana available in 2015 is like the difference in alcohol content between 12 oz of beer and 12 oz of hard liquor. The THC content of today’s marijuana can be greater than 30%, whereas three decades ago the THC content was under 10% (LaFrate, 2015). In other words, erroneously thinking that it is OK for a teen to use marijuana would be like erroneously thinking “I drank beer in high school and it’s not unhealthy for my son to drink beer;” without realizing that the same erroneous view of today’s marijuana would be like thinking “I drank beer in high school so it’s not unhealthy for my son to drink scotch!!”
A recent study that looked at the effect of “medical marijuana” advertisements on students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades found that the students who had greater exposure to “medical marijuana” had stronger intentions to use marijuana one year later (D’Amico et al 2015). This study is another reason why parents of all children need to be prepared for their children’s reactions to the change in the New York law.
To learn more, get involved with your local community substance abuse prevention coalition, go to trusted sources for information such as the American Medical Association or the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and attend special events in your school and community where accurate and current information will be presented.