Marijuana & Youth—Unpacked

Often, when people think about marijuana, their own personal preference (or indifference) to the plant shapes their opinion. That’s natural. The C.A.R.E. Coalition is committed to promoting healthy, drug-free youth, who have the opportunity to become their best selves. Because of this pledge, it is important to consider how marijuana, and the legalization trend, can impact young people.

As its beneficial properties continue to be discovered and extracted, marijuana’s mind-altering properties have a different impact on the developing brain than on adult brains. Science has shown, again and again, that marijuana use among teens is correlated with low academic performance and mental health problems. Recent research suggests that teens who used marijuana regularly before the age of 18 resulted in an average IQ of 6-8 points lower at age 38 versus teens who didn’t use the drug before age 18—even if those kids stopped smoking after age 18. Regular use doubles teens’ risk of depression and anxiety, triples their likelihood to have suicidal thoughts, and increases their risk of developing schizophrenia. It also messes with the wiring in the pleasure and reward centers of the brain, putting teens at risk for addiction to more dangerous substances, later down the road.

But enough with the science. Youth use rates are on the rise. The trends of legalization and medicalization of marijuana has a lot to do with it, as teens shrug and say, “Weed isn’t a drug, it’s medicine. It’s legal. It can’t be bad for you.” National Institute of Drugs and Alcohol shows that the less harmful youth perceive a drug to be, the more they use it.

Indeed, this sort of talk tricks teens into thinking there is no risk, and legalization also makes it easier for teens to get a hold of pot. Nationally, Oregon, D.C., Colorado, Alaska, Washington, Maine, and Massachusetts are in the top 10 for past-30 day teen use rates—all states where marijuana is legal. Other chart-toppers are Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont, which have lax medical marijuana laws. Teen use is continuing to rise in those states and across the nation. With what we know about marijuana’s (and any substance’s) impact on the adolescent brain, C.A.R.E. encourages you to join us in taking a thoughtful, more critical look into what these trends may mean for the futures of young people.