Talking to Your Kids About Marijuana: Communicating the Risks

This week we are giving you options and ways to talk to your kids about Marijuana. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a toolkit with resources to help parents talk to their kids about marijuana.

This article originally appeared on National Institute on Drug Abuse June 2016

Why do young people use marijuana?

Young people start using marijuana for many reasons. Curiosity, peer pressure, and the desire to fit in with friends are common ones. Those who have already begun to smoke cigarettes or use alcohol—or both—are at increased risk for marijuana use as well. And people who have untreated mental health disorders (such as depression, anxiety, conduct disorder, or ADHD) or who have experienced trauma are at increased risk of using marijuana and other drugs at an early age.

For some, drug use begins as a means of coping with anxiety, anger, depression, boredom, and other unpleasant feelings. But, in fact, being high can be a way of simply avoiding the problems and challenges of growing up. Research also suggests that family members’ use of alcohol and drugs plays a strong role in whether a young person starts using drugs. Parents, grandparents, and older siblings are models that children follow.

Indeed, all aspects of a teen’s environment—home, school, and community—can influence whether he or she will try drugs.

How can I prevent my child from using marijuana?

There is no magic bullet for preventing teen drug use. But research shows parents have a big influence on their teens, even when it doesn’t seem that way. Talk openly with your children and stay actively engaged in their lives. To help you get started, the next section provides some key points about marijuana research findings that you can share with your kids to help them sort out fact from myth and help them make the best decisions they can. These key points address the types of questions and comments that we receive from teens every day on our NIDA for Teens website and blog. Following that brief section, the FAQs and additional resources will equip you with even more information.

Did you know?

Marijuana can be addictive. Despite contrary belief, repeated marijuana use can lead to addiction, which means that people often have trouble stopping use of a drug when they want to, even though it is having a negative impact on their lives. Research suggests that about 9 percent of people who use marijuana develop an addiction. This rate nearly doubles to 17 percent when marijuana use begins during the teen years. Among youth receiving substance use disorder treatment, marijuana accounts for the largest percentage of admissions—about 55 percent among those 12 to 17 years old.

Marijuana is unsafe if you’re behind the wheel. Marijuana impairs judgment and many other skills needed for safe driving: alertness, concentration, coordination, and reaction time. Marijuana use makes it difficult to judge distances and react to signals and sounds on the road. Marijuana is the most commonly identified illegal drug in deadly crashes, sometimes in combination with alcohol or other drugs. 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—more so than either substance alone.

Marijuana is linked to lower grades, school failure, and poorer quality of life. Marijuana has negative effects on attention, motivation, memory, and learning that can persist after the drug’s immediate effects wear off—especially in people who use regularly. Someone who uses marijuana daily may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level most or all of the time. Recent research has shown that people with persistent marijuana use disorder who began using marijuana heavily as teens permanently lost an average of 6 or up to 8 IQ points by mid-adulthood. Compared with their nonsmoking peers, students who use marijuana tend to get lower grades and are more likely to drop out of high school. 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.

Marijuana is linked to some mental illnesses. Although scientists don’t yet fully understand how the use of marijuana may impact the development of mental illness, high doses can bring on an acute psychosis (thinking that is detached from reality, sometimes including hallucinations) or panic attack. In people who already have schizophrenia (a severe mental disorder with symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and disorganized thinking), marijuana use can worsen these symptoms. Also, evidence suggests that early marijuana use may increase the risk of psychotic disorders among those at higher genetic risk for these disorders.

References for this article can be found on National Institute on Drug Abuse.