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How Today’s Cannabis Can Hurt the Teenage Brain

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  • How Today’s Cannabis Can Hurt the Teenage Brain

    Are you concerned about your teen’s cannabis use? Is it interfering with their grades and other activities? Almost everyone I know who smoked pot in … How Today’s Cannabis Can Hurt the Teenage Brain Read More

    Are you concerned about your teen’s cannabis use?

    Is it interfering with their grades and other activities?
    Almost everyone I know who smoked pot in high school tried other drugs. Conversely, I never met anyone who used hard drugs who didn’t start with pot. ~ David Sheff
    Whether you wanted legalization or not, the future impact is not known. In five to ten years you most likely will know how legalized marijuana will impact your health care system, your school system, and your community.

    From the California Department of Public Health, “Let’s Talk Cannabis Information Initiative, there are negative ways that cannabis can affect a young person’s life and their future. The question is, “How will legalization affect the teens in California?” We know teen cannabis use is not healthy for the developing brain. Heavy use, particularly, with today’s cannabis can affect the teen brain in a negative way.

    Here is a short video on the Laws around Cannabis use in California which was legalized in 2016:

    According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse in 2018, 11.8 million young adults used marijuana.

    Use among middle and high school students remained about the same. Yet, the number of teens in 8th and 10th grades who say they use it daily has increased, according to the Monitoring the Future Study. 

    As I’m sure you know, vaping has become more popular. The number of teens in 8th and 10th grade who vape daily has increased.

    And nearly 4% of 12th graders saying they vape THC daily.

    Also, the number of teens who believe marijuana use is risky has decreased.

    Research shows that marijuana use can impair a teen’s brain development, memory, and learning. It also can affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions.

    Researchers are looking into how long marijuana’s effects last and whether some changes may be permanent.

    According to Monitoring the, “Marijuana has been the most widely used illicit drug throughout MTF’s 43-years. It can be taken orally, mixed with food or drink, vaped, and smoked, including in a concentrated form as hashish. The great majority of recreational use in the U.S. involves smoking it in rolled cigarettes (“joints”), in pipes or water pipes (“bongs”), or in hollowed-out cigars (“blunts”). More recently, methods include smoking, vaping, or eating different forms of resin extracts like hash oil, honey oil, or shatter–a solid form.”

    A couple of moms wrote in recently concerned about their child’s cannabis use.

    One mom from Massachusetts wrote that she was concerned about her 16-year-old son. He needs help because his cannabis smoking is not for recreational use anymore. We find him smoking alone late at night on a school night, and there are other red flags that are coming up.

    Another mom from Oregon wrote in that her son smokes marijuana every day after school. He often sleeps in the evening and recently received an “F” in one of his classes. He is not convinced marijuana is a problem. His friends are smoking, and still getting good grades. His friend’s parents don’t seem to mind. This makes it hard for me to tell my son he can’t use marijuana.

    It is always helpful to consider not only your teen but other teens as well when making decisions about marijuana use in your home.

    The fact remains that parents do have a great influence on their children. While is it not always easy, you do have the power to help them get through this period of their lives in a healthy way.

    Marijuana is often seen as the least bad option for parents and often part of the passage of adolescence. Parents give their children the message that it is okay to use marijuana as long as you are able to manage your life.

    One of the things to keep in mind if your child is using whether they are functioning well or not is that the negative effect can occur over time.

    Collaboration is crucial when you are trying to create family rules around drug use.  It’s helpful if you, your spouse or your child’s other parent are on the same page and giving the same message. Be cognizant of mixed messages.

    Here are some ways that marijuana can affect your teen from the California Department of Public Health: Let’s Talk Cannabis:

    Cannabis Affects the Brain

    • The brains of young people do not fully develop until they reach their mid-20s. Regular cannabis use during the early years of life can lead to harmful physical changes in the brain.
    • Research shows that when youth use cannabis their memory, learning, and attention are harmed. Some studies suggest a permanent impact as well.

    Other Negative Side Effects

    • Driving under the influence of cannabis increases the risk of getting into a car crash. Cannabis can negatively affect the skills that are needed to drive safely, including reaction time, coordination, and concentration.
    • The harmful effects of cannabis on a young person’s brain may impact their educational and professional goals and how successful they are are in life. Research shows that youth who start using before 18 or who use cannabis regularly may be at a higher risk for:  skipping classes, getting lower grades, dropping out of school, unemployment, or having less fulfilling jobs later in life.
    • Like tobacco, smoking cannabis is harmful to the lungs. The smoke from cannabis has many of the same toxins and chemicals found in tobacco smoke, and when inhaled can increase the risk of developing lung problems.

    Mental Health Problems

    • Mental health problems do not affect everyone, yet, some users have experienced anxiety, depression, suicide, and psychosis.
    • Cannabis dependence
    • A higher risk of using or abusing other substances and illegal drugs

    You may hear that everyone is smoking marijuana. The fact is that most high school students in California reported they were not using cannabis. The numbers may have gone up with the stress from the pandemic. 

    Cannabis use affects college-aged young people as well.

    According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Vaping marijuana and vaping nicotine rose sharply in the past three years among college-age (19-22 years old) adults, according to 2019 survey results from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study. The percentage of college students who said they vaped marijuana in the past 30 days rose from 5.2% in 2017 to 14% in 2019. The corresponding percentages for their non-college-attending peers increased from 7.8% in 2017 to 17% in 2019.”

    From Jennifer Golick, LMFT, here is a video of her excellent presentation: “Today’s Marijuana: What You and Your Teen Need To Know.”

     Some takeaways from Jennifer’s talk are:

    High THC Levels

    From 1960 to about 1990, the concentration of THC in marijuana was roughly 2-5%. In the early 2000s, the THC concentration tended to max out around 8-10%. In the last decade, the THC content has risen to between 20 to 30% concentration.


    The marijuana that is available today is 5-6x stronger than it was 20 years ago.


    There are now much stronger forms of cannabis. Gorilla Glue, as an example, is a variety of cannabis that is available at dispensaries, has topped out at 36% concentration of THC. New forms have emerged such as Butane Hash Oil (BHO), also known as Dabs, Budder, Shatter, and Wax.

    A one half gram dab on average is equal to 3.5 grams of a high-end marijuana plant. Butane hash oil can be consumed using a “pen”, e-cigarette, or an e-hookah. BHO is orderless, so your child could be using it many times a day which will affect his brain development.

    Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome

    High THC levels lead to more rapid dependency and Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome. Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome is characterized by:
    • flu-like symptoms
    • agitation
    • anxiety
    • nausea
    • sweating
    • body aches

    Notice if your child is experiencing these symptoms. It could also be a sign of heavy use.

    Cannabis-Induced Psychosis

    There are more cases of BHO-induced psychosis that are being reported now. Psychosis can look like schizophrenia. It can include auditory hallucinations, visual hallucinations, paranoia, hearing things that aren’t there, believing things that aren’t true. This is a real symptom of high potency cannabis use.


    Of course, this doesn’t affect every teen. Yet more people are showing up in emergency rooms and mental health clinics with symptoms of psychosis which stems from their marijuana use.


    In a study of 780 people by King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience “skunk-like” cannabis, which is a more potent form of the drug, was associated with 24% of new psychosis cases.


    Skunk-like cannabis can have a 14-15% THC content with no CBD. Every teen that smokes weed is not going to become psychotic. Yet, it is a risk factor that you and your child need to know about.

    Dr. Marta Di Forti, lead author of the research states, “Compared with those who had never tried cannabis, users of high potency skunk-like cannabis had a threefold increase in the risk of psychosis. The results show that psychosis risk in cannabis users depends on both the frequency of use and cannabis potency.”

    If your teen shows signs of cannabis or any other drug use, the earlier you can step in the better. The myth that we need to let our children hit rock bottom is harmful.

    Signs of marijuana use

    • Letting go of family values
    • Legal issues
    • Academic problems
    • Getting along with parents
    • Change of friends

    Reasons Your Child Has Chosen to Use Cannabis

    Understand what the problem is behind your child’s use. Some reasons could include peer pressure, a belief that marijuana is harmless, stress, and trauma. Your family dynamics are important to consider as well.

    According to a study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, besides the reasons mentioned above, young people may also use marijuana to feel good, ease boredom, relieve tension or frustration, seek deeper insights, escape problems, or to increase (or decrease) the effects of other drugs.

    Some tips on what you can do:

    • Talk to your kids about drug use, not just once, but often.
    • Take action early if you suspect your child is using cannabis
    • Stay calm. Don’t let your emotions and fear get the better of you.
    • Listen to your kids. Understand their point of view.
    • Understand the pressure your teen is under.
    • Get Family Support

    There is no question that cannabis use is a challenge for parents. The more you talk with your child about the danger to their developing brain when they use any kind of drug, the better.


    You can help your kid stay healthy. You can also help somebody else’s kid stay healthy as well.

    What is your experience with legalized marijuana? Have you had any negative consequences with your underage children because of the new laws?


    Monitor the Future Study, Monitoring the Future, Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan

    Today’s Marijuana: What You and Your Teen Need To Know, by Jennifer Golick, LMFT

    Reasons for Marijuana Use Among Young Adults and Long-Term Associations With Marijuana Use and Problems

    This article was updated on November 10,  2021.

    Thank you for reading. I know you have many options on content. Don’t forget to sign up for my free training filled with information and inspiration. Sign up now.

    And consider getting access to my online course, Regain Your Hope, an online course that gives you an action plan to help your child. Know that your child can change. Love, Cathy