Being a parent of a teen is a hard job. Insert readily available drugs and a need to experiment – the job just became that much harder. Some of you may have a kid that is already actively using marijuana and some may be wondering how to talk to your teen about pot. I hope this information helps parents in both camps.
Why Marijuana is the Gateway Drug
There are arguments for why marijuana is or is not a gateway drug. Her are my thoughts on why pot IS a gateway to other drugs for teenagers; peer exposure is high for teens and teens are developmentally primed to seek out acceptance from friend groups, if this means smoking some grass to get acceptance they are likely to choose to join in. The media and general opinion also leans towards the perspective that marijuana is harmless. You may even feel like a little pot never hurt anyone, but there is hard data that shows us otherwise – we will get into that here in a moment. If your kids feel like pot is no big deal they are more likely to partake. On top of that, teens have less of an ability to say no because they are young, and being high can make them say yes to experimenting with other drugs, why not?
Messages Around if Marijuana is Harmless or Not Are Confusing
In 1937 Harry Anslinger testified to Congress that pot is addictive and produces insanity, criminality and death. During that same time, someone else said the Medical American Association showed no evidence that pot was dangerous. SO we know confusing messages around marijuana have been present for a long time. Current research shows marijuana is very serious, especially for the teen brain, So serious that teens can develop loss in IQ, addiction and years of impairment after just short periods of regular use. There are also high risks for other mental disorders.
Hard Data on Marijuana and the Teen Brain
100 million Americans 12 years old and older say they have tried pot at least once. Seems like a pretty normal thing to have tried pot at least once in your life. Here is another number, 2/3 of the admissions into rehab are teens addicted to drugs.
Why Does Pot Affect the Teen Brain Differently?
Teens are primed to seek novel stimuli because they are at a point in their development where they can learn very easily and at a fast rate. In the teen mind learning is heightened, fun feels more intense and pot just amps up the intensity that their brain is already seeking out. When a teen smokes pot it reduces the stress they feel from their senses being naturally heightened all the time, while also making fun seem way more fun. The problem? When they come down off marijuana, life doesn’t have the luster it did before, nothing seems as interesting, so they smoke more pot. Volia, you have habitual use and then addiction.
What is the Effect of Marijuana in the Brain?
Marijuana effects your brain the same way it does your teen’s brain, except it affects your teen much longer and interferes with regular brain development in your teen over time. The affects on the brain are worse the earlier pot use starts. Pot smoking adolescents have been shown to have smaller brain volume and visible brain damage when compared to nonusers, and some outward affects of regular use may not show up until adulthood. The younger kids start using marijuana the more likely they are to abuse it. The most significant correlation between pot use and brain damage is age – early users are twice as likely to become addicted, those who do pot before 16 have trouble focusing and make twice as many mistakes on tests that involve planning and abstract thinking.
Pot inhibits brain signals from firing properly and not just when a person is high. The effects last. Marijuana users have poorer memory and learning skills after using. Pot affects a person’s ability at any age to recognize personal errors in thinking. In serious cases this can lead to schizophrenia. The risk for schizophrenia is actually 2-5x higher in regular pot users than in nonusers. In 2010 there was a study that showed that early pot use is linked to a 50% increase in clinical depression as well.
Humans have natural endocannabinoid receptors in their brains. I have heard people say that if we have natural receptors already present in the brain, then smoking marijuana is okay, because it links up with our natural chemicals. The cannabinoids that bathe your brain when you smoke pot interfere with the natural processes in the brain because they connect with your receptors 4x more than your natural occurring cannabanoids. This is why it takes days, weeks even months to recover.
THC affects all parts of the brain that have endocannabinoid receptors and all parts of the brain have them. Right now your teen is going through a critical part of their development – the frontal and prefrontal cortex are developing. This part of the brain is the part that they use every day to think, change behavior and regulate inhibitions. These are also the MOST AFFECTED PARTS OF THE BRAIN AFFECTED BY MARIJUANA!
How Do I Talk to My Teen About Marijuana?
Start YOUNG. Talk to your kids as much as you can about all drugs. Do not minimize the subject because you smoked a little grass in college an you were fine. Definitely don’t joke. Your kids are always listening to you even when you don’t think they are. Explain to them what the affects of marijuana are on their brain. Ask them what their goals are in life? What do they find interesting and want the most? Then explain that marijuana use makes thinking and learning much harder to do. Explain that if they would like to smoke pot to regulate their anxiety that they will have anxiety and stress all throughout their life and they can not turn to marijuana to solve it. Be honest about your own experimentation and explain that research knows so much more about marijuana now and its affects on the brain. It may help to mention the THC concentration in the marijuana of 1985 was less than 4% and in 2009 it rose to 10%. I guarantee the THC content of 2020 is even higher. Remind your kids they have the advantage of knowledge we did not have back when we were kids and they can use that knowledge to make better choices.