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5 Urgent Reasons to Keep Youth Marijuana-Free

Whether you know it as marijuana, THC, cannabis, weed, or pot, one fact is clear: No amount of marijuana use is safe for youth. Because young people’s brains are still developing into their mid-20s, they are much more vulnerable to the harmful effects of marijuana use, including its negative effects on mental health. In fact, teens can become addicted much more easily and quickly than adults: 90% of Americans struggling with addiction today started using alcohol and other drugs in their teen years, highlighting just how important early prevention efforts are to reducing our kids’ risk of addiction.

With more marijuana being sold and used in our communities, it’s more important than ever to protect them from early experimentation. Here’s five of the most important reasons to keep youth marijuana-free:

1. Marijuana Today is Stronger Than Ever Before

The marijuana available today at gas stations, smoke shops, and dispensaries is not the same marijuana of the past. The THC concentration (the substance responsible for the “high”) in commonly cultivated marijuana plants has increased dramatically over the years. While the average THC concentration in the 1960s was 1% to 4%, dispensaries are selling products with average THC concentrations between 17.7% and 23.2%. In fact, the potency of marijuana has increased almost four-fold just since 1995, from under 4% to over 15% in 2021, and continues to increase. Many “flower” products are in even stronger potencies than this: A quick search of a local dispensary showed marijuana flower products as high as 31.54% THC.

This doesn’t even account for high-THC concentrates like dabs, waxes, shatter, budder, and oils used in vaping cartridges, infused joints, and edibles, which are far more widely available to the public today. These extracts can deliver extremely large amounts of THC to the body when vaped or smoked, and depending on the process used, can contain anywhere from 39% THC to over 80% THC. The risk of addiction to marijuana increases with exposure to high concentrations of THC, and higher doses of THC are more likely to produce anxiety, agitation, paranoia, and psychosis. These highly concentrated THC products pose even greater risks to young, developing brains.

Keep in mind that these marijuana products are not approved by the FDA, meaning there’s no regulation regarding safety, efficacy, or even proper dosage. Keeping youth marijuana-free is a protective measure against the potential harms of increasingly potent strains.

2. Marijuana, Like Other Drugs, Can Be Addictive

Marijuana is often misperceived as a harmless substance, but it is not without its risks, especially to youth. Despite what you may have heard, marijuana can be addictive, especially for developing teen brains. Approximately 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted, but if they start before age 18, the risk of addiction rises to 1 in 6. Young people under age 25 are more prone to addiction than adults because it’s a form of learning. Just as it’s easier for a younger brain to pick up a new language or musical instrument than an older brain, it’s easier for teens to become addicted, because to the brain it’s all just “learning.” Additionally, early marijuana use can increase the likelihood of developing dependence on other substances later in lifeKeeping youth marijuana-free helps mitigate their risk of addiction.

3. Marijuana Use Harms Teen Mental Health

Conversations around youth mental health have grown more common in our homes, schools, and communities in recent years. As we navigate these conversations with youth, it’s important to recognize the role that substance use can play. Having mental health issues can lead teens to try to cope by using marijuana, despite the fact that marijuana use can negatively impact mental health. Exposure to the ever-increasing THC in marijuana may negatively impact our youth’s developing brain, disrupting their emotional development and ability to cope with stress and other negative emotions now and into their future. In fact, depression, anxiety, and psychosis are more common in teen marijuana users than their

non-using peers. Teens who use marijuana are also at a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts than their non-using peers. Encouraging a marijuana-free lifestyle is crucial for preserving the mental well-being of our youth.

4. Marijuana Use Negatively Impacts School Performance

The teen years are a time of incredible learning, growth, and exploration, and our teens have amazing brains that are just right for this stage of life. But because teen brains are undergoing significant changes, marijuana use can hijack this development and have short and long-term effects on our youth’s brains. The effects of marijuana use include difficulty thinking and problem solving, problems with memory and learning, impaired coordination, and difficulty maintaining attention – all important to succeeding in school. Students who smoke marijuana tend to get lower grades and are more likely to drop out of high school compared to their peers who don’t use.

Marijuana’s negative effects on attention, memory, and learning can last for days and sometimes weeks – long after the high wears off.

But because the brain is still developing, the damage from youth marijuana use can potentially be permanent. Some studies have even linked marijuana use to declines in IQ, especially when use starts in adolescence and persists into adulthood. Preventing youth marijuana use is critical to helping our kids succeed, learn, and grow into healthy adults.

5. Marijuana Use Makes Driving Dangerous

Many firsts occur for our kids during their teen years, including learning to drive and getting their license. However when driving is mixed with marijuana use, this exciting new experience can quickly turn into a dangerous one for everyone on the road. Marijuana use diminishes judgment and the many other skills needed for safe driving, like alertness, concentration, coordination, and reaction time. Gauging distance and reacting to sounds and signals also becomes more difficult with marijuana use. Couple that with inexperienced teen drivers, who might think driving high is “safe,” and the outcomes could be potentially tragic. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, marijuana is the most commonly identified illegal drug in deadly crashes, sometimes in combination with alcohol or other drugs.

By itself, marijuana is thought to roughly double a driver’s chances of being in a crash, and the combination of marijuana and even small amounts of alcohol further increases those risks. But the danger isn’t just limited to impaired drivers – Teens who use marijuana are more likely to be a passenger of an impaired driver. To keep our kids safe on the road, set the expectation that teens remain marijuana-free and that they never ride with a driver that they suspect is impaired.

How We Can Keep Youth Marijuana-Free

The good news is that marijuana rates among youth in the Northland are currently low and we can help keep it that way by:

  • Setting clear expectations that kids will stay marijuana-free. Let them know that any substance use, including marijuana use, is harmful to their growing brains and you care about their mental health and well-being.


  • Being curious and keeping the dialogue open about marijuana. Ask kids what they think or have heard about marijuana. Let them know they can come to you or other trusted adults for help with peer pressure, stress, or anxiety. Assure your child that their well-being is a priority and that they have options for relief other than turning to substance use.


  • Preparing kids for peer pressure. Help youth gain confidence to say “no” to marijuana by practicing scenarios and brainstorming what they might say if offered marijuana. Work with your teen to come up with a code word to text you or another trusted adult if they feel like they need help to get out of an unsafe situation. Support your teen in finding safe and drug-free ways to spend their time doing positive activities with peers.


  • Watch for early signs or symptoms of marijuana use and changes in behaviors, friend groups, or attitudes. Some warning signs include: Glassy, red eyes, slurred speech, dry mouth, a “skunky” smell, anxiety, a drop in grades, quitting activities, and difficulty thinking and problem solving. Get your child help early if you suspect any substance use.

Safeguarding the well-being of our youth must remain a top priority as we navigate the increasing availability and potency of marijuana in our communities. Its addictive nature, impact on mental health, and harmful effects on the growing brain all underscore the importance of keeping kids marijuana-free. As adults, we have the power to protect our kids and help prevent addiction, and Parent Up is here to help! Check out all of our free marijuana-specific resources here!

Parent Up KC Staff

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