Marijuana Use in Adolescents
It’s no surprise that adolescents commonly experiment with drugs and alcohol. More than 40% of adolescents in the US admit to trying an illicit drug. This is not limited to high schoolers- more than 25% of 8th graders admit to experimenting with a drug at least once. Now that cannabis is legal for individuals 21 and over in New York, marijuana is more easily available; as a result, we have seen an uptick in edible marijuana use by young adolescents in the office over the past year.
Growing Up in NYC: Access is Everything
As you probably have already noticed, there are cannabis dispensaries on virtually every corner in Manhattan. Due to the sheer number of shops, regulation is difficult. In addition to cannabis flower, the dispensaries sell vape pens and edibles, some that closely resemble popular candies, making them especially appealing to middle schoolers. Given that this is our new reality, it is time for us to have a frank discussion about what our young adolescents are being exposed to, how to talk to them about it, and why we are worried.
Why Marijuana is a Big Deal for the Adolescent Brain
The adolescent brain has increased neuroplasticity and therefore is more vulnerable to the effects of cannabis. Not only is early use of substances a risk factor for future substance use disorders and dependence, early marijuana exposure is associated with decreased IQ, higher risk of psychosis in individuals who are predisposed, and increased risk of mood disorders. Because the adolescent brain is not fully developed, substance use significantly affects the pleasure/ reward system, making the effects more profound than in adults. Additionally, it can cause permanent neurocognitive deficits in attention and memory that persist beyond the consumption period.
Types of Cannabis Available to Kids
So- what can you do about it? First, be aware of what’s out there, have it on your radar. The gummies often come in packages that look exactly like your child’s favorite candies. Because of their minimal odor, they are easy to hide, so looking closely at the candy bags in your child’s backpack or purse might be worthwhile.
Educate Your Kids About the Risks of Using Marijuana
Secondly- start educating your child early, earlier than you would imagine, about substance use and the risks associated with early cannabis use. We will share links to informative articles describing how frequent pot use affects the adolescent brain. Keep the conversation short and sweet, but be direct and clear about your feelings about their use. Try not to play up your use as a teen or even as an adult, sending the message that marijuana is “no big deal.” Ask open-ended questions about what is happening in school and with their friends. Make it clear that they can always call you if they have taken something; although there will be consequences, you will ensure they are safe and hold off on the reprimanding until they sober up. Sometimes the negative experience of getting too high is enough to scare them off for a while anyway.
Isn’t THC the Same as When We Were Kids? Short answer: No.
Of note, THC concentrations have increased greatly over the last 25 years. We are not dealing with the same drugs that were around when we were in high school or college. Educate your kids that many gummies available today are in very high doses and not meant to be consumed all at once.
As always, we are here for you if you have further questions. Depending on your child’s age, it might be helpful to share some of the articles below to better educate them on what’s out there.