Critics of marijuana legalization have been extremely vocal about the drug’s purported side effects despite emerging evidence that cannabis has several medicinal uses. Still, in the case of teen marijuana use, experts on both sides of the fence agree that it should be avoided.
The developing brain is extremely sensitive, and while many chemicals within cannabis occur naturally within the body, these chemicals exist in different quantities in the adolescent brain than they do in the adult brain. Consequently, indulging in Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol—THC— and the 400 or so other chemicals found in weed is not the smartest thing for kids to do. Experts warn that individuals under the age of 16 are most at risk, and that the brain does not completely mature until age 25.
How Many Teens Smoke Pot?
According to a 2013 Monitoring the Future study, 45% of high school seniors report having tried marijuana at least once, and 22% partook in the drug the month the month of the survey. Overall, marijuana was on the decline in the U.S. up until 2007. Beginning that year, marijuana uses began to creep up in several states.
Effects of Teen Marijuana Use
Early marijuana use has been shown to cause developmental issues in teens that can extend into adulthood. It is important to note, however, that not all teens are affected equally. Some teens suffer little or no ill effect. However, for those affected, the cessation of drug use generally does not reverse the damage.
The consequences of teen marijuana use in later life can include lower income, higher unemployment, greater welfare reliance, and lower life satisfaction. Some studies have found a correlation between early cannabis use and immature sexual activity and higher levels of leaving the home.
Of greater concern are the numerous studies that have found a correlation between teen marijuana use and schizophrenia. Schizophrenia typically presents in the early to mid-twenties, and some researchers believe that early marijuana use can cause the disease to present earlier in susceptible individuals. Depression and anxiety are also risk factors.
Teen marijuana use has long been taboo, not just by society as a whole, but also within teen social groups. Anti-legalization groups have always maintained that legalization of pot would lead to high addiction rates in the teenage population. Interestingly, however, since Colorado legalized recreational use for adults, teen use of the drug has declined.
Meanwhile, nationwide teen drug use has remained steady. The Colorado Department of Public Health had this to say, “Thirty-day marijuana use fell from 22% in 2011 to 20 percent in 2013, and lifetime use declined from 39% to 37% during the same two years.” After legalization at the start of 2014, teen drug use in the state fell at even faster rates. Legalization advocates argue that legalizing marijuana has rendered its use “uncool” in teen social circles within the state. No doubt legalization advocates and critics alike will study the data to get to the bottom of the phenomenon.