Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Teen Rehab and Marijuana Use

Teen Rehab for Marijuana Use Disorder

This article presents some of the factors associated with teen marijuana use that appear to be driving more and more adolescents into teen treatment of one kind or another.

The number of Americans supporting the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana (cannabis) products has been steadily increasing over the years. In a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, “60 percent of respondents supported allowing adults to buy marijuana for personal use. When NBC News and The Wall Street Journal asked the same question in 2014, that number was 55 percent.”

In November 2016, California voters passed Proposition 64, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, legalizing the sale and distribution of cannabis in both a dry and concentrated form. Individuals over age 21 are allowed to possess up to one ounce of cannabis for recreational use and can grow up to six live plants individually or more commercially with a license.

Legalization in California followed similar ballots in Colorado, Washington, Massachusetts, and other states. Many voters based their decision on what psychiatrist and addiction specialist Kevin Hill calls the three myths in his book Marijuana, specifically, that cannabis is not harmful, that it cannot lead to addiction, and that stopping the use of marijuana cannot cause withdrawal symptoms.

Teen rehab professionals note that the low risk perception has been steadily filtering down to teens. According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 51.5 percent of American teens aged 12–17 perceived great risk from smoking marijuana once or twice a week in 2002. Twelve years later that percentage had plummeted to only 37.4. That means more than 60 percent of teenagers do not perceive smoking marijuana once or twice a week a great risk. Similarly, Less than 20 percent of 18–25 year-olds believe that marijuana use is dangerous.

This perceived harmlessness can backfire, especially on heavy users, as Dr. Hill explains in Marijuana: “Excellent scientific research shows that regular marijuana use affects the ability to think, can increase feelings of anxiety and depression, and increases the odds that one will develop psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.” And yes, it can result in a cannabis use disorder.

Teen Rehab and Brain Development

The vanishing risk perception is especially problematic for individuals whose brains are not fully developed and who are more inclined to engage in risky behavior.

“The teenage brain is not there all the way,” neurologist Frances Jensen explained in an NPR interview in 2016. “It takes often into your early 20s and possibly late-20s and maybe even beyond for the brain to fully mature to adult levels.”

As many parents know, teens are particularly risk-prone when they are in the company of their peers. “Though teenagers are more physically fit and healthier than children or adults, they actually make up the largest group of avoidable causes of death” writes Daniel Siegel in Brainstorm. Dangerous behaviors lead to injuries and fatalities. “With accidents, drug use, wounding from weapons, suicide, and murder, the period from twelve to twenty-four is the most dangerous time of our lives.”

Marijuana affects brain development, as teen rehab specialists have know for some time. When people begin using marijuana as teens, the drug may impair thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions. Researchers and teen rehab thought leaders are still studying how long marijuana’s effects last and whether some changes may be permanent.

Using marijuana depresses brain function to the point where chronic use results in lethargy and a reduction in motivation. The more potent the weed, the more lethargic the user. This is not good for anybody but unlike adults, the teen brain is still actively developing and often will not stop until the mid-20s. Drinking and drug use during this period can have a hugely detrimental impact, affecting a teen’s ability to progress and grow on numerous fronts.

THC affects the way sensory information is processed by the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls learning and memory, as well as the combination of sensory experiences with emotion and motivation. By suppressing the neurons in the hippocampus, THC causes learned behaviors to deteriorate; thus the teen’s ability to productively handle stimuli is stunted.

Teen Rehab and High-Octane Cannabis

The cannabis plant contains hundreds of different chemicals. One of them is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical responsible for most of the plant’s psychoactive effects. This other important substance in marijuana is cannabidiol (CBD). “The natural levels of THC and CBD are under 1 percent,” writes Ben Cort in Weed, Inc. “We also know that in one of nature’s little miracles, CBD counteracts the psychedelic effects of THC. In other words, if the quantities of CBD and THC are equal you will have a hell of a hard time getting high by smoking/ingesting the plant.”

The problem is, marijuana growers have been working on increasing the THC content for over fifty years now. The amount of THC in marijuana has been increasing steadily over those decades. What you get today is no longer your daddy’s reefer. So the increased demand for teen drug rehab comes as no surprise to researchers and operators of teen rehab centers.

In the seventies, joints averaged a concentration of about one percent, close to the natural levels of the cannabis plant. In the early nineties, the typical THC concentration had increased to three percent. Now it often exceeds 13 percent. In addition to that, cannabis is used in an even more concentrated form called hash oil or wax. So-called “dabbing” refers to the inhalation of concentrated THC products created through butane extraction. Butane hash oil (BHO) can reach incredible concentrations of over 50 percent. That is 50 joints of the seventies rolled into one.

“Concentrates are everywhere and are not just being used by the fringe; they are mainstream and they are what many people picture when they talk about marijuana,” writes Cort. “You are going to think some of this must be talking about hardcore users on the edge, but it’s not; concentrates are everywhere and have become synonymous with weed for this generation of users.” Hence, the number of teens being admitted to teen rehabs with experience in “dabbing” or “wax” or “budder” has been on the rise.

For a young person who is new to marijuana use, this means exposure to higher THC levels, a greater chance of harmful reactions, and a higher chance of ending up in teen rehab. Higher THC levels may explain a rise in emergency room visits involving teen marijuana use. The popularity of edibles also increases the chance of harmful reactions. Edibles take longer to digest and produce a high. Therefore, people may consume more to feel the effects faster, leading to dangerous results.

Marijuana can make people temporarily experience psychotic symptoms, says Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute for Drug Abuse at the National Institutes for Health. With highly concentrated cannabis, the probability of such symptoms increases. Higher THC levels also mean a greater risk for dependence if people are regularly exposing themselves to high doses.

Teen Rehab and Legalized Weed

Legal marijuana is frequently presented as a lifestyle choice for adults over 21 involving almost no detrimental consequences if used responsibly. Teen rehab clinicians know, however, that marijuana use typically starts at a much younger age and can have negative consequences, especially for teens and emerging adults.

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Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States by teens as well as adults, reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is also the most commonly used drug by adolescents entering teen rehab. In 2017, about three percent of 10th graders and six percent of 12th graders used marijuana daily. Forty-five percent of 12th graders had used cannabis at least once in their life. The typical age of a high school senior is 17 and almost half of them have used marijuana at least once.

Teen rehab professionals know that it is wishful thinking to assume that California’s recreational marijuana laws will keep weed away from teenagers. Many of them have been smoking pot even though it is illegal for them to do so. A study by the University of Florida found that currently 54 percent of young adults will have used marijuana by the age of 21. “The researchers found the likelihood that adolescents would start using marijuana climbed steadily starting at age 11, reaching a first peak at age 16.” After a dip at 17, the researchers found the second peak at 18, well below the legal threshold of 21 in states with legalized marijuana. Many teen rehab experts can concur with these findings.

In Marijuana, Dr. Hill recounts the example of a 20-year-old male who responded to an advertisement for a marijuana addiction clinical trial. “He first smoked marijuana at age twelve and was smoking daily by fourteen.” By the time he was 20, he smoked three times a day and would start the day by “waking and baking,” that is smoking marijuana within 30 minutes of waking up. He had tried to stop using several times but “those attempts lasted less than a day each time,” writes Dr. Hill. This is a far cry from the responsible adult user the marijuana lobby likes to present.

Teen Rehab Specialists Know the Indicators

Parents worried about their teen should keep an eye out for behaviors that include:

  • New sets of friends coming into your child’s life accompanied by older or even lifelong friendships being ignored
  • Friends not being invited over to your home and hesitance to introduce you to new friends
  • Grades falling
  • Extracurricular activities being dropped
  • Missing money from home or the homes of relatives

Teens who acquire marijuana in leafy form may 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 marijuana in dry form, however, it’s not uncommon for users to hack and cough after taking a hit. The fumes react negatively with the lungs, but users must hold in the vapors in for a long-enough period of time for the drug to take effect. 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, or incense. It’s a distinctive smell and once a parent knows what marijuana smells like, that parent will be aware of the drug use within minutes. Teens might try to avoid detection by burning incense or spraying deodorizers, and some teens bake marijuana into their food, so they can avoid the smoke scent altogether.

Teen Rehabs Recognize the Underlying Causes of Substance Use Disorder

For many teens, substance abuse is a symptom of an underlying mental health issue. This is a belief widely held by teen rehab experts and clinicians. In 2015, about three million teens ages 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than two million reported a depression that impaired their daily function. About 30 percent of teen girls and 20 percent of teen boys have an anxiety disorder, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Teen rehab clinicians treat many adolescents who were attempting to self-medicate a mood disorder with drugs and alcohol. Parents may find it hard to understand why their child is smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol because they are unaware of any mood disorders their child might have developed. Sometimes, a traumatic life event is the real reason behind the substance abuse.

Teen rehab treatment needs to address these co-occurring issues, otherwise the substance use is likely to continue. Marijuana use is dangerous for healthy teens because it may stunt their brain development. It is even more dangerous for teens with mental health issues. For example, marijuana has been linked to the onset of schizophrenia in those already predisposed to the disease. And despite the claim that so-called medical marijuana can mitigate anxiety issues, marijuana has been shown to induce psychosis and anxiety attacks, rather than ease them.

Teen rehab professionals know that abusing drugs or alcohol can make an underlying mental illness worse. Teens who are depressed might experience a flash of euphoria due to the effects of the substance. This might suppress their emotional pain for a while, but as soon as the intoxication wears off, the depression or anxiety disorder will resurface. At the same time, the substances engage the brain reward system which may lead to a substance use disorder if the drug and alcohol use escalates.

Addiction is a complex disease of the brain, requiring sophisticated intervention on multiple levels. Choosing the right teen rehab program can be challenging. Muir Wood Adolescent & Family Services, regarded by many addiction professionals and healthcare specialists as a gold standard in adolescent care, was developed to be the most effective teen rehab for kids and their families.

Every patient at Muir Wood’s teen rehab is assigned an individual licensed therapist who meets with them at least twice a week, along with family therapists, psychiatrists, nurses, psychologists, experiential therapists, and other highly qualified staff. With a maximum of sixteen boys in residential treatment at one time across two centers, treatment is very personalized and all aspects of teens’ lives are evaluated and addressed to insure a long-term recovery.

Parents with questions about marijuana use or our treatment program should call 866-705-0828.