Recreational marijuana, medical marijuana, legalization of marijuana. You read about it in the news, talk about it with your friends, and maybe wonder what to tell your kids. As more states pass medical or retail marijuana laws, the general public’s perception of marijuana has changed. Both adults and teens now see it as safer.
Let’s face it: most adults last learned about drugs back in high school. Back then marijuana was a different drug, and there wasn’t much research about it. To help you make informed choices, here’s what you should know about marijuana today.
Marijuana is addictive.
Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to develop an addiction to marijuana. Overall, 1 in 10 marijuana users will develop an addiction—but among teens, the rate is 1 in 6. The younger a person starts using marijuana, the more frequently they use, and the higher the potency of the drug, the more likely they are to become addicted. Marijuana use has also been shown to correlate with later addiction to other drugs.
The new marijuana is not the original plant found in nature.
Marijuana has been bred over the past few decades to have higher and higher levels of THC—the psychoactive ingredient that provides the high. In the 1970s, the average THC level was about 1%; in 1995 it was 4%, and by 2014 it was 12%. Nowadays the average THC level in marijuana sold in dispensaries is around 23%.
Plus, it’s now common to vape THC that has been extracted or condensed from the marijuana plant, rather than to smoke the plant itself. Condensed forms such as oil, dab wax, or shatter can be 80%-90% THC. More than half of teens who used weed in 2020 reported that they vaped it, which means they are consuming the drug in a very potent form.
According to the Surgeon General, no amount is safe for the developing teen brain.
Marijuana acts directly on the brain. It’s particularly risky for teens and young adults, since their brains are still developing until their mid 20s.
In August 2019, the Surgeon General warned that “frequent marijuana use during adolescence is associated with changes in the areas of the brain involved in attention, memory, decision-making, and motivation.” Studies have shown that teens who use marijuana a few times a week can have:
- A 6 to 8 point IQ loss
- Psychotic episodes and an increased risk of developing psychotic disorders (schizophrenia)
- Increased risk of developing an addiction
Who can legally use marijuana?
- Marijuana is not legal in the US under federal law due to concerns over safety and an inadequate research base.
- As of 2021, 38 states have legalized the use of “medical marijuana” and 15 states have legalized “recreational use” of marijuana for adults.
- Here in Connecticut, recreational use of marijuana is currently illegal at any age.
- Medical marijuana is available to CT residents who are certified by a doctor to have certain conditions. (As of 2021, CT has identified 38 qualifying conditions for adults and 10 for children.)
Medical marijuana consumers get a certificate from a doctor which they take to a dispensary. The certificate does not specify a method of use, dosage, or frequency of use for different conditions; it just allows the client to select a product. FYI: Medical marijuana is only intended to be used by the person who has the certificate. It should not be shared.
How does marijuana affect driving?
Some teens believe they drive better after using marijuana. However, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “marijuana significantly impairs judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time, and studies have found a direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving ability."
NIDA also reports that "marijuana is the illicit drug most frequently found in the blood of drivers who have been involved in vehicle crashes, including fatal ones.”
Should I use marijuana to help manage my stress?
Marijuana can provide a sense of wellbeing that can mask stress or anxiety temporarily. At the same time, it can cause agitation, anxiety, paranoia and even psychosis, especially when high-potency THC is used. Research about the effect of marijuana on mental health is very mixed: it may help with depression in some circumstances (possibly when the CBD content is high), but in other cases it’s more likely to worsen the depression. It’s allowed to be used for PTSD in CT and some other states even though research shows that it often worsens PTSD.
If you feel like you need marijuana to cope with stress, it’s probably a better bet to identify and address the sources of stress and to practice new, healthier coping mechanisms. Diet, exercise, and meditation are examples of positive ways to manage your stress effectively. If your stress is affecting your daily functioning for more than a week or two, it may help to see a counselor.
Most people don’t use marijuana.
- About 1 in 8 American adults (12%) smoke marijuana, according to a July 2019 Gallup poll.
- About 1 in 5 teens (22%) use marijuana, both in the US and in CT, according to the 2019 Youth Risky Behavior Survey.
- Over the past few years, teens are increasingly vaping marijuana concentrates, rather than smoking it. (Monitoring the Future study)
- In focus groups conducted in CT this winter, teens report using marijuana as a coping mechanism for dealing with the stresses of quarantine.
- Check out the Partnership to End Addiction's handbook for how how to talk to your teen about marijuana.
- Get these statistics and more from Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. For public policy research on marijuana legislation, check out Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).
- Next week we’ll be back with information about how to recognize and treat possible marijuana addiction.
- If you’d like to get involved in preventing substance misuse, join your local prevention council! Each town has a volunteer-based coalition that identifies needs and develops plans and programs. Contact Margaret Watt, our Prevention Director, to find your local coalition.