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Marijuana: Risky Business for Young Brains

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 38% of high school youth have used marijuana at some point in their lives.  In this same report, concerning findings suggest more middle school youth and kids who historically aren’t at high risk for drug use, are now using marijuana.  Our local rates in the Kansas City Northland are lower than the national average, but still concerning.  In the Northland, 30% of middle and high school kids perceive marijuana as harmless with 5.5% of them using it regularly (2020 Missouri Student Survey).  

Using marijuana is risky business for a developing teenage brain. According to the CDC, use in teens can result in difficulty in thinking and problem solving, problems with memory and learning, impaired coordination, and difficulty maintaining attention. Teen marijuana use is also associated with lower grade point average, reduced overall school performance, impaired driving, impaired attention span, lower life satisfaction, and increased risk for mental health issues and other substance use

Although marijuana use can actually increase mental health problems, many teens use it to dampen anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.

Here at Parent Up, we believe that parents and caring adults can help prevent youth marijuana use and protect youth from turning to marijuana use to cope. This month, Parent Up got some insight from Dr. Debra Olson-Morrison, a local clinician who has decades of experience working with families.

Informed teens make more informed choices. Engage pre-adolescents and young teens in healthy conversations about the effects of using drugs such as marijuana. Refrain from using scare tactics and lecturing, and remain open and receptive to what your teen wants to share with you. Start with phrases such as “So, seems like some kids are using marijuana these days. What do you think about that? What do you know about the effects of using marijuana? How do you feel about all this?”  Asking open-ended, curiosity-based questions reflects a non-judgmental willingness to engage in truthful dialogue about drug use.

Choose relationships over ribbons. Many parents focus on their teens’ grades, performance in extracurricular activities, undesirable behaviors, or other activities, and forget to just spend quality one-on-one time with their teen. As parents and caring adults openly talk about marijuana use, they should simultaneously show confidence in their teen’s ability to make healthy decisions, and spend time connecting with them.

Trust, Love, and Acceptance: Communicate your admiration for the person your teen is, and excitement for the person they are becoming. Being a teenager is hard – being present to and validating teens’ thoughts, feelings, concerns, and dreams provides a foundation for a healthy relationship based in love and trust.

Thanks for your thoughts, Debbie, and thanks for the work you do with Northland kids to help them thrive! 

Remember, Parent Up is here to help you navigate conversations about drug use and establishing healthy boundaries with your kids. Visit our homepage to learn “how to Parent Up” or navigate to our Drug Topics page for more information about preventing youth substance use, including marijuana use.

Debra Olson-Morrison, PhD, LCSW, RPT-S has been in clinical practice with children and families since 2001 and currently serves as the Trauma-Informed Training Manager and Child Advocacy Center Therapist at Synergy Services.

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