As cultural norms about recreational marijuana use evolve,  perception of risk among teens and parents in our community has declined. Parents can help reduce the risk of teen marijuana use by talking to their kids, setting clear expectations, and building Developmental Assets.

The choices young people make about how they act, how they spend their time, and who they will become are not made simply by chance. Their decisions are based upon external and internal influences, including the positive influence of Assets.  

Marijuana Use and Perceptions

Marijuana use among Midland’s youth population (12-18 years) has declined sharply in the past five years. Data from the Midland Youth Survey, conducted by The Legacy Center in 2016, indicate that 8% of our youth population used marijuana in the 30 days prior to the survey, compared to 16% in 2011 . Not only has 30-day use declined, but it is well below the national average of 14%. The chart below shows 30-day use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and prescription drugs, by grade level.

 

While this is great news, the perception of risk is down among teens. According to the survey, only 68% of Midland County youth believe that regular marijuana use poses a moderate or great risk. Teens reported that they believe marijuana is less risky than alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs, which could be an indicator of future use.

Levels of Potency

Today’s marijuana isn’t the pot of the 1960s, 70s or 80s. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. Old-school marijuana typically contained less than 10% THC, but recent testing of legal marijuana in Colorado found it contained an average THC level of 18.7%, with some retail pot containing 30% or more. The tests were conducted by Charas Scientific, one of eight labs certified by Colorado to do potency testing. The results were released in a March 2015 meeting of the American Chemical Society.

In addition, marijuana concentrate products like hash oil, butter, shatter, and vaporizer cartridges can reach potency levels of 90% THC. Even medical experts do not know what the health impacts of such high concentrated levels are, but we do know that much lower levels of THC can cause irreversible changes to the developing brain.

Few consumers have any idea that one small marijuana-infused chocolate caramel bite, which looks identical to a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, can contain up to 100 milligrams of THC. Edibles take longer to digest and to produce a high. Therefore, youth may consume more to feel the effects faster, leading to dangerous results. Higher THC levels also may mean a greater risk for addiction if users are regularly exposing themselves to higher doses.

Risk of Addiction

Marijuana can be addictive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), data suggest that as many as 30% of marijuana users have some degree of marijuana use disorder. For those who started using as minors, the odds of developing a marijuana use disorder increase by four to seven times. Marijuana use disorders range from dependence to addiction. A person who is dependent on marijuana may feel withdrawal symptoms when they are not using the drug, but a person with an addiction will continue to take the drug even if it is interfering with their daily lives.

Cognitive Effects

Marijuana use is associated with poor school performance. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that teens with an average grade of “D” or below were more than four times as likely to have used marijuana in the past year, than those with an average grade of “A.” The Monitoring the Future survey found that the more a student uses drugs, including marijuana, the lower their grades and the more likely they are to drop out of school.

Marijuana use negatively affects the developing teen brain. A study conducted by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the National Institute on Mental Health found that adolescents and young adults that are heavy marijuana users are more likely than non-users to have disrupted brain development. Researchers found abnormalities in areas of the brain that interconnect brain regions involved in memory, attention, decision-making, language and executive functioning skills. More information about the dangers of marijuana use can be found by visiting www.samhsa.gov.

Permanent IQ Loss

A study more than 30 years in the making found that smoking marijuana permanently lowers intelligence, or IQ . Frequent pot smokers (even those who had given up marijuana) tended to have deficits in memory, concentration, and overall IQ. The reduction in IQ for those who smoked pot heavily prior to age 18 was most pronounced: an average of eight points. An eight point reduction in IQ is enough to have a significant, negative impact upon a person’s life.

What’s significant about this research is that it was a longitudinal study: researchers followed and tested subjects from birth through to age 38, noting when and how frequently they picked up habits like drug use. The longitudinal research provided a baseline IQ score for all subjects, which revealed changes in IQ scores as they picked up new habits, such as smoking pot.
While the study didn’t measure the effects of marijuana upon teenagers’ emotional intelligence, it’s likely they are dire. Emotional intelligence (EQ) in teenagers lags behind their cognitive development. This explains why teenagers are so impulsive, emotional, and prone to risky behavior. Since teenagers’ EQ develops much later than their IQ, this area of the brain is even more susceptible to the negative influences of marijuana.

What Can I Do?

  • Set clear rules with your teen that all substances, including marijuana, are off limits.
  • Share the information on this page with your teen so they know the risks.
  • Work on building your teen’s Developmental Assets.

Building Assets Reduces Risk-Taking Behaviors

Data from the 2016 Midland County Youth Study conducted by The Legacy Center reflects how the assets experienced by young people affect the choices they make regarding risk-taking behaviors.

Learn more about Developmental Assets.