Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, MS, LPCS, is a professional counselor and author of several books about teen anger, sexual trauma, and bullying. She is also a parenting contributor to US News and World Report, Psychology Today, and Rehabs.com. Today she lends some insight on teen Marijuana use and how it affects them.
In your article, “Why Teens Get High,” what are the negative consequences of teens that use Marijuana?
“Using marijuana can have unhealthy consequences for teens. Per my article, many teens are looking for an escape from everyday problems. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates one in five teens has a diagnosable mental health disorder, and about one third show symptoms of depression. To help them deal with painful emotions and cope with life stressors teens may turn to drugs, like marijuana. If they suffer with depression, they may not realize that marijuana can act as a depressant and intensify their symptoms. Research published in The Journal of Affective Disorders showed that marijuana use among psychiatric patients with depression was associated with worse symptoms and mental health functioning. Marijuana is not a cure for teen mental health issues, and can actually exacerbate symptoms.
Additionally, there are some serious side effects associated with using marijuana. Much of the information online paints a picture of a relatively harmless substance that is not addictive. But marijuana is harmful and addictive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, childhood marijuana use can have an adverse effect on: learning ability, attention and memory, coordination and balance, judgment and decision-making.
Aside from these effects, the immediate effects of marijuana include a racing heart, disorientation, depression, sleepiness, increased appetite and dry mouth (aka ‘cottonmouth.’) Some users may suffer from anxiety, panic attacks or anger and aggression. Plus, THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, remains in the body for weeks, and can pose more of a risk for cancer than tobacco.”
With the legalization of Marijuana in several states, do you think there will be an increase in teen access or use of the drug?
“According to 2016 Monitoring the Future survey, the most commonly used illicit drug, especially among 12th grade students, was marijuana.
In 2016, teens who reported marijuana use in the past 12 months dropped to 9.4% for 8th grade students, and 24% for 10th grade students.
This was not the case with 12th grade students, in which 36% reported using of marijuana. Concerning, that number has held steady since 2011. Six percent of 12th grade students reported smoking on 20 or more occasions in the past 30 days.
Fortunately, the majority of teens (68.5%) disapprove of using marijuana on a regular basis. On the flip side, unlike other drugs teens use, the use of marijuana is not declining. So, one could assume that legalization is having an effect on teens perception of marijuana, but as for now we really don’t know.”
What are your thoughts on Marijuana as a “gateway drug” for other illicit substances?
“There is some research that suggests marijuana use precedes the use of other drugs, but that does not mean that every teen who uses marijuana will try other drugs. Alcohol and marijuana are usually the most commonly used drugs because they are cheap and easily accessible. I think peer influence is a far greater factor in teen drug use, and the types of drugs they use.”
Would you say that smoking weed affects teens differently than adults?
“The American College of Pediatricians reports marijuana is an addicting drug that has adverse effects upon the adolescent brain development, and it is a risk for both cardio-respiratory disease and testicular cancer. Chronic and prolonged use of marijuana can adversely affect the developing brain. Adolescents need to be exposed to the whole truth about marijuana use, and not fall victim to buying into unreliable sources that don’t reveal credible information.”
One of the focuses of your career is Teen Angst. Does teen anger play a role in the use Marijuana?
“Perhaps. Many teens who suffer from problematic anger, anxiety, or depression may turn to marijuana to escape their emotional pain. Marijuana, like alcohol is easily accessible and relatively inexpensive, so it’s a quick ‘go-to’ drug. When dealing [with] anger, it’s important to understand it is an emotional response to other underlying thoughts and feelings, such as feeling something is unfair, or unjust. Anger can also mask emotions, such as hurt, guilt, anxiety, and depression. For some angry teens, marijuana may provide a temporary escape from everyday problems. Sadly, a lot of these youth may not realize that in some cases marijuana can actually make them angrier. Previous research findings support an association between marijuana use and increased violent and aggressive behaviors.”
What do you think are the major mental health or substance abuse issues for teens today, and how do they differ from teens in the decades before?
“The teen years are a time of self-exploration. These times can be complicated and confusing in a youth’s life. To top it off, today’s teens have a lot on their plates. Many teens have to cope with family problems, friendship struggles, problems with school, and the list goes on and on. As a result, youth often lack healthy coping strategies to get through difficult times. While drug use may appear like a short-term solution it can become a long-term problem.
Teen Mental Health Issues facing youth today:
Depression, Stress, Anxiety, and Attention Deficit Disorder
- Between 10% to 15% of teens have symptoms of teen depression at any one time.
- Approximately 8% of teens ages 13-18 have an anxiety disorder, with symptoms commonly emerging around age 6.
- Approximately 6.4 million (11%) of youth 4-17 years of age have been diagnosed with ADHD
as of 2011.
Teens who struggle with emotional and mental problems are especially vulnerable to becoming susceptible to the luring power of alcohol and drugs. Sadly, these youth will do anything to find relief no matter how short-lived it is.”
If you could say a word of advice to Millennials and future generations, what would it be?
“No one ever said the adolescent years were easy. In fact, they can be some of the most turbulent years in life. From friendships to after high school plans, life’s complexities can become stressful and overwhelming. It can be difficult to sort through life’s problems alone. Have trusted people in your life that can help you navigate through the hard times. Make wise choices about what you put into your body. Remember – you only have one body, and it’s relying on you to take care of it.”