Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Teen Marijuana Abuse: Symptoms & Impact

Teen Marijuana Abuse: The Effects of Marijuana Abuse and How To Talk To Your Teen About Them

Marijuana isn’t the most expensive drug on the market, which makes it attractive for teens who don’t have large amounts to spend, but research suggests that marijuana is so common among teens that most users don’t pay anything at all for the drugs they take.

Teens are more likely to use marijuana than tobacco, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports. Perhaps they’ve been convinced that marijuana is safe since voters in both Washington and Colorado opted to make the drug legal for recreational users older than 21. Other states have chosen to make marijuana legal for people with specific medical conditions and a writ of need from their doctors, further providing incentive for teens who want to believe that marijuana use couldn’t be as dangerous as their conservative parents would have them believe.

Debunking these myths might be vital, as parents who do so might be able to convince their children to stop experimenting with marijuana before debilitating cases of addiction take hold.

How It Works

In the United States, marijuana is often sold in leaf form. Producers grow the plants, harvest the leaves and seeds, dry them and sell them in tiny, plastic bags. Marijuana sold in this format looks a lot like oregano, hence the nickname “herb.” Teens who buy marijuana like this can roll it into a cigarette and light the package on fire and inhale the smoke that results, or they can place a tiny packet of the leaves inside a specially designed pipe that runs the smoke through water.

Teens can inhale the steam, rather than inhaling the smoke directly, when they use this method. No matter how a teen smokes this leafy marijuana, however, it’s not uncommon for users to hack, cough, and sputter after taking a hit. The substance reacts violently with the lungs, but users must hold in the vapors for a long period of time for the drug to take hold. Users can also purchase a tarry, cake-like substance that contains the essential essence of marijuana, and this can also be smoked.

When marijuana is smoked, it produces a tell-tell scent that’s similar to:

  • Skunk
  • Wet dirt
  • Burned pine
  • Incense

It’s a distinctive smell that’s not really produced by anything else, and once a parent knows what marijuana smells like, that parent will be able to identify the drug use right away, within minutes. Teens might try to avoid detection by burning incense or spraying deodorizers, and some crafty teens bake marijuana into their food, so they can avoid the smoke scent altogether.

Marijuana isn’t the most expensive drug on the market, which makes it attractive for teens who don’t have large amounts to spend, but research suggests that marijuana is so common among teens that most users don’t pay anything at all for the drugs they take. For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that 58.3 percent of young adults used marijuana that they acquired for free, or they shared a dose of marijuana with someone else.

Marijuana and the Brain

Marijuana contains some 400 chemicals, but the main ingredient that causes impacts on the brain is THC. This powerful chemical can alter perception and lower inhibitions, and it’s responsible for the goofy, silly feelings people are flooded with when they take in marijuana. These feelings might be familiar to adults who used marijuana when they were young, but there’s reason for caution. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), levels of THC in marijuana have been rising since the 1970s, meaning that pot now is much more powerful than pot taken in the 1960s.

The happiness and silliness some people feel on marijuana could take a dark turn in teens who have an underlying tendency toward schizophrenia. According to a study quoted by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, there is “growing evidence” that using marijuana as a teen increases the risk of schizophrenia later in life, and people who have this vulnerability have a higher chance of experiencing psychosis when they take marijuana. They may hallucinate, become violent or show personality changes while they’re under the influence, and if schizophrenia sets in, these changes might be permanent or cyclical in nature. Brain damage is at the root of this, but scientists are only now beginning to understand how the interplay between genetics and drug use plays out when it comes to marijuana and schizophrenia.

People who use marijuana regularly may be functioning at a reduced mental capacity some, if not all, of the time. For teens, this might manifest as confusion, or teens might bring home markedly lower grades. Brain changes caused by marijuana abuse can also lead some teens to a so-called “a-motivational syndrome,” in which they become intensely lazy and unable to complete even the smallest tasks. It’s as though their vitality has been zapped, and it’s hard for them to recover.

Marijuana and the Body

Teens who smoke marijuana can expose the delicate tissues of their lungs to all sorts of deadly chemicals, and it’s not clear what kind of damage long-term exposure could do. People who abuse marijuana tend to be at greater risk of catching respiratory illnesses, including bronchitis, but many users of marijuana also smoke tobacco, so it’s hard to know where to place blame for these problems. Those who smoke marijuana chronically can develop a deep, rumbling cough, however, and this does seem to indicate that the drug can cause at least some level of tissue damage.

Marijuana also tends to stimulate the appetite, and people who are smoking tend to gravitate toward sweet and salty snacks to satisfy their urge to eat. Teens who smoke often may put on weight as a result, and they may be sedate and slow during their binges, which could cause them to gain even more weight. Obesity during adolescence is a difficult problem to combat, and teens who gain weight may find that they bring these extra pounds with them into adulthood.

Addictiveness Levels

It’s common for online writers to claim that marijuana is a simple herb that isn’t addictive at all. According to the NIDA, nothing could be further from the truth. According to their research, one in six teens who use marijuana develops an addiction. Of those teens who use the drug daily, that addiction rate climbs to 25 to 50 percent. While people who start using the drug during adulthood can also develop addictions, the teen years seem to be especially vulnerable for addictions. The brain is wiring and rewiring during this time, and that work could leave the brain open to addictiveness patterns.

Addictiveness attributes can also be seen when people attempt to stop abusing marijuana. They develop signs of withdrawal, including:

    • Depression
    • Agitation
    • Lack of appetite
    • Insomnia

These signs seem to indicate that the brain has become accustomed to regular access to marijuana, and without it, the brain feels low and bereft. In time, the symptoms disappear as the brain adjusts, but it can be difficult to quit using when the body seems to imply that it needs the drug in order to survive.

Talking to Teens

It can be hard for parents to reach out to their kids and talk about marijuana in a clear, direct and persuasive way. Teens might be surrounded by peers who are full of misinformation, and this can be hard for teens to ignore. Parents can help by sharing their own stories of their marijuana use, if applicable, along with stories about the detrimental things they saw due to marijuana use. Sharing research, such as the tidbits that appear in this article, could help to persuade teens who rely on hard facts in order to make decisions. Parents can also make it clear that marijuana use isn’t allowed in the household, and if teens need help in order to quit, they’ll get that help.

If your teen boy needs help with marijuana, we hope you’ll call us. At Muir Wood, we’ve developed a sophisticated program that’s designed to help adolescent boys overcome their addiction issues. We can even help to nurture your son’s emotional development, allowing him to enter adulthood with a strong set of coping skills. We hope you’ll contact us and schedule an enrollment appointment for your boy today.