Teens at Muir Wood enjoy game night

Teen Rehab and Today’s High-Potency Marijuana

Marijuana sure ain’t what it used to be.

In fact, teen rehab specialists know that today’s young people are facing much more dangerous cannabis products than their parents did way back in the 20th century.

The potency of cannabis is determined by measuring levels of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the main psychoactive ingredient that gives marijuana users the “high.” Back in the 1970s, the average THC concentration of a joint was around 1 percent.

But fifty years of genetic selection by growers have changed that dramatically. By the turn of the century, marijuana was six times more potent compared to the marijuana baby boomers encountered in college. Now it can easily exceed 15 percent THC. Legalization and the resulting industrialization of marijuana has taken THC levels to crazy excesses. “In Colorado, a 12 percent sample would be hard to find,” writes Ben Cort in Weed, Inc. “We are seeing plants pushing past 40 percent today.”

Teen Rehab Experts Warn that Marijuana Isn’t Just a Plant Anymore

The legalization of recreational marijuana in California and other states allows the commercial manufacture and sale of THC-based products, not just the sale of plants. Dispensaries offer a whole array of products, including THC-infused candy, distillates, lotions, and more. In Colorado, only about 50 percent of sales involve buds or plants. The other half are high-potency distillates and edibles.

Brownies, cookies and gummy bears are now common forms of marijuana consumption—and they are very popular with teenagers. There’s no need to hide drug paraphernalia or disguise smoke from marijuana. Gummy bears and cookies are much easier to conceal and consume. Many parents are horrified when they hear from teen rehab experts that their kids might be sitting in a movie theater, or in the classroom at school, using marijuana and teachers and parents wouldn’t even know it.

Vaping and Dabbing

Another way of using marijuana is vaping. Unlike the more traditional pipes and “blunts”, a weed vape pen creates virtually no odor. An oil cartridge attached to an electronic cigarette gets the user just as stoned as a puff from a joint, but with none of the smoke. Teen rehab professionals warn that vaping tobacco or cannabis in e-cigarettes has taken off big time among teenagers.

In 2016, the Surgeon General reported that “E-cigarette use among U.S. youth and young adults is now a major public health concern. E-cigarette use has increased considerably in recent years, growing an astounding 900 percent among high school students from 2011 to 2015.” Teen rehab experts note that teenagers consider vaping mostly safe. A 2014 survey of 19,000 e-cigarette users found that 88 percent believed e-cigarettes were at least safer than regular cigarettes and 11 percent believed e-cigarettes were harmless.

An even more dangerous way to use cannabis is so-called “dabbing” which refers to the inhalation of concentrated THC products created by butane extraction. Butane hash oil (BHO) or wax can reach incredible concentrations well beyond the 50 percent range!

The THC is extracted and concentrated in a process known as “blasting.” Butane is passed through a steel or glass tube filled with dried cannabis. The clear amber distillate is referred to as honeycomb, shatter, or wax, as well as BHO (butane hash oil). The production process is fairly dangerous because butane is flammable and highly volatile. There have been numerous incidents in which homemade labs blew up and required the attention of the local fire department.

Teen rehab experts warn that the substance produced by the chemical reaction can reach THC concentrations of 80–90 percent. This is geometrically more potent than the “reefer” of the 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, the availability of increasingly potent cannabis products is accompanied by the widespread perception that using marijuana is mostly risk-free creating a perfect storm of abuse and dependence.

Teen Use of Cannabis is Increasing

Teen rehab professionals know that all too many young Americans no longer believe using marijuana products involves serious risks. The ongoing normalization of marijuana use in the United States has reinforced the belief that cannabis use is neither harmful nor addictive. After all, their parents probably smoked it and state after state are now making it available for recreational use.

It is not surprising then that teen use of cannabis is on the rise. “While teenagers might be binge-drinking less and having less sex than the previous generation did, marijuana use among teens, which had declined from the late 1990s through the mid-to-late 2000s, is on the rise again,” The Washington Post reported in 2017. “This is a problem because, despite our culture’s increasingly casual attitudes toward pot, research suggests that marijuana use can damage the developing teen brain.”

Teen rehab experts know, it’s a big mistake for teenagers to use cannabis. Krista Lisdahl is the director of the brain imaging and neuropsychology lab at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. “It’s the absolute worst time,” she told NPR, because the mind-altering drug can disrupt development. One should think of the teen years as “the last golden opportunity to make the brain as healthy and smart as possible.”

Marijuana Stunts Brain Growth

Adolescents are uniquely susceptible to lasting damage from marijuana use. At least until the early or mid-20s, “the brain is still under construction,” says Staci Gruber, a neuroscientist at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts. During this developmental period, the brain is thought to be particularly sensitive to damage from drug exposure. And the frontal cortex, the region critical to planning, judgment, decision making and personality, is one of the last areas to fully develop, Gruber says.

“The most significant factor in the association between marijuana abuse and potential brain damage is age,” writes Frances Jensen, M.D., in The Teenage Brain. “Early teen users are twice as likely to become addicted, and those who indulge in pot before the age of sixteen have more trouble with focus and attention and make twice as many mistakes on tests involving planning, flexibility, and abstract thinking.” At least one study suggests regular marijuana consumption may actually lower your IQ.

Yes, Marijuana is Addictive

Contrary to what many Americans—including many doctors—believe, persistent use of cannabis can lead to addiction. According to addiction psychiatrist Kevin Hill, “9 percent of adults and 17 percent of adolescents who use in the United States develop an addiction, resulting in 2.7 million Americans meeting criteria today for Marijuana addiction.”

In his book Marijuana, Dr. Hill writes, “When a patient is having a conversation with me during the initial consultation, it is often difficult to tell the difference between someone addicted to marijuana and someone addicted to ‘hard drugs’ like heroin or cocaine. That is because, as with heroin and cocaine addicts, people addicted to marijuana have a brain disease and are engaging in compulsive behaviors that hurt themselves and those around them.”

How to Tell If a Child Needs Treatment

It is hard for many parents to accept that their child may need treatment for a marijuana use disorder. Initially, many parents may view the marijuana use as a kind of rite of passage—a passing phase. Teen rehab experts recommend treatment if marijuana misuse has turned into a severe marijuana use disorder. Early intervention and treatment can make a world of difference in turning a teen’s life around and launch his or her recovery. Early treatment could mean that a teen will…

  • Need treatment for a shorter period of time
  • Need less intensive treatment
  • Remain drug-free for a longer period of time
  • Avoid more dangerous drugs like heroin and cocaine
  • Avoid injury while under the influence
  • Avoid unprotected sex under the influence that can result in an STD or pregnancy

Contact Muir Wood to learn more about our residential treatment program for teen teens in Sonoma Country, CA or our teen teens and girls outpatient program in Marin County, CA.