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We’re talking about marijuana, cannabis, weed, pot, or any of the other terms used to describe the drug derived from the Cannabis Sativa or Cannabis Indica plant. Sale or possession of marijuana remains illegal under federal law; however, many states have legalized marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes.

As laws and norms change, it is easy to confuse the facts about the drug’s impact on brain development and public health. Marijuana is often one of the first drugs a teen is offered and 78 percent of teens say that they have close friends who use marijuana.  This new landscape makes it even more crucial that we’re clear on one fact: No amount of marijuana use among youth is safe

What are the Risks to Youth?

Cannabis and brain horizontal infographic 
Unlike adults, the teen brain is still developing and, on average, will not be fully developed until their mid-20s. Marijuana use during this period may harm the developing teen brain.  Research shows the effects can include difficulty thinking and problem solving, problems with memory and learning, impaired coordination, and difficulty maintaining attention. Since the brain is still developing, the damage from youth marijuana use can potentially be permanent.

Marijuana is Stronger Today than Ever Before

Marijuana is currently available in multiple forms and consumed by youth through edibles, smoking, and vaping.  The THC concentration (the substance responsible for the “high”) in commonly cultivated marijuana plants has increased three-fold in recent 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%. Concentrated marijuana extracts, commonly known as dabs or waxes, are far more widely available to the public today and sold through dispensaries.  These extracts can deliver extremely large amounts of THC to the body when vaped or smoked.

Macro detail of cannabis concentrate HTFSE extracted from medical marijuana isolated over black on a dabbing tool
Cannabis Flower & Vape Pen
THC: CBD Extract Concentrate Shatter
Marijuana products: edible treats

Young People are More Vulnerable to Addiction

Because young people’s brains are still developing into their mid-20s, they build synapses faster than adult brains as they develop.  Addiction is a form of learning, so adolescents can get addicted more easily than adults. Research shows that about 1 in 6 teens who repeatedly use marijuana can become addicted. This means they may unsuccessfully try to quit using marijuana, may want to use marijuana despite negative consequences, or will voluntarily pass up events with family and friends to use marijuana.

Youth and Impaired Driving

There is a common, yet false, perception among users of marijuana that they “drive safer” when they’re high. Driving while impaired by any substance, including marijuana (medical or otherwise), is dangerous. Marijuana negatively affects a number of skills required for safe driving, including reaction time, coordination, and concentration.  Couple that with inexperienced teen drivers, who think driving high is “safe,” and the outcomes could be potentially tragic. And even if teens don’t drive while high, they are more likely to be a passenger of an impaired driver.

Marijuana is Easier to Access

The 2018 Missouri Student Survey found that almost 2 out of 5 students believed marijuana was “easy to get.”  Whether it’s ordered from the internet, bought or given to youth by a friend, or even their own family members, marijuana is easier for youth to access now than ever before. 

Increased Risk of Mental Health Issues

Marijuana can negatively affect a teen’s mental health.  Issues such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis are more common in teen marijuana users than their non-using peers, especially if marijuana-using teens have higher risk factors, like a family history of mental illness.  Marijuana-using teens are also at a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.

What Can Parents Do?

Shot of a beautiful mother and her adorable daughter bonding at home

The rules you set, the relationships you build, and the conversations you have about marijuana and other drugs make a BIG difference in the decisions teens make.  Kids who learn about the risks of marijuana, alcohol, and other drugs from their parents, and know their parents’ no-use expectations, are HALF as likely to ever use these drugs compared to their peers. 


Educate yourself and others about the harmful effects of marijuana and make it a priority to protect your child from engaging in any substance use.  Start early and let your child know you care about their health and safety, and that you are speaking from a place of concern, love, and support.  These are tricky conversations and difficult situations to navigate with your kids, but a little work on the front end can protect your child’s health and safety for years to come. 


Connection is the best prevention.  Kids that have stable, consistent and healthy relationships with adults make safer decisions and live healthier lives.  It’s important that parents, and other caring adults, take time to listen, pay attention, spend time, and follow up with the kids in their lives. When we are connected, we can better understand their feelings and motivations, and kids are more willing to listen when they
feel like you are on their side.   Caring mid African American father gestures as he gives advice to his preteen son. They are looking at one another. They are sitting on the front porch of their home.


Visit our talking points for tips on how to have conversations with your child about any substance use, depending on their age.  Keep in mind that the average age a child in Missouri uses marijuana for the first time is age 14.  Having open and honest conversations about this topic, before and after this age, is important for preventing youth use.  

Make it clear to your child that you don’t approve of them using marijuana, but be curious and open-minded about their experiences.  Ask them what they think about marijuana. Their answer may surprise you. It’s more important – and effective– to listen and discuss rather than to lecture.  Instead of interrogating your child about whether or not they’ve used marijuana, it’s easier to start a conversation by asking what they’ve heard about it at school or if they’ve seen other kids using it.

Here are some things to say to your child about marijuana:

  • “There’s a lot of information about marijuana out there but I want you to come to me with youMJ Talk Kitr questions.”
  • “If you’re concerned about your friends using marijuana, let me know and we can talk about it.”  (In Missouri, more than 1 in 3 youth (34.5%) had at least one friend who smoked marijuana.)
  • “There’s a lot of information about marijuana out there, but I want you to know that it is never okay for kids to use.”
  • “Your brain is growing and marijuana isn’t good for growing brains.”

For more tips about talking to your child about marijuana, please check out the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids’ excellent and comprehensive Marijuana Talk Kit.

Pay Careful Attention

Know where your kids are at, who they are with, and be sure to check in when they get home.  Watch for any early signs or symptoms of marijuana use and be on alert for changes in behaviors, friend groups, or attitudes.

Signs that Your Child Might Be Using Marijuana: 

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids is a great resource for parents when talking about, or suspecting, teen marijuana or other drug use.  Here are the signs they say to look for if you think your child might be using marijuana:

Looking “stoned” – glassy, red eyes. Out of it. Slurred speech.
Dry mouth
Decreased personal hygiene from what was “normal” for them
Smell – marijuana has a very “skunky” type smell

Changes in Behavior
Disrupted learning and memory
A drop in grades and/or quitting activities
Difficulty with thinking and problem solving
Increased appetite – “munchies” – beyond what is normal
More tired and less motivated
Inappropriate laughter
Distorted perception (sights, sounds, time, touch)
Loss of motor coordination
Heavy use of breath mints, mouthwash, gum and/or eye drops
Use of incense or other deodorizers in bedroom
Rolling papers, bong, pipe, and/or vaping equipment – A good rule of thumb is, if you see anything you don’t recognize, it’s time to start asking questions and doing research.

Need help?  
The Partnership For Drug Free Kids provides free and confidential assistance to parents and other primary caregivers who want to talk to someone about their child’s drug use and drinking.  The phone number is 1-855-DRUGFREE or access their one-on-one help online. 

Helpful Resources

Marijuana Talk Kit from The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

Marijuana Facts:  What Parents Need to Know from the National Institute on Drug Abuse

What to Do if You Catch Your Child Smoking Marijuana from American Addiction Centers

How Much Do You Know about Edibles? quiz from Just Think Twice

Vaping Marijuana:  What You Should Know from Just Think Twice

Marijuana Concentrates: How Much Do You Know? from Just Think Twice

What is CBD? from Just Think Twice and National Institute on Drugs


Marijuana Risks:  Build a Brain

Teen Brain Development

The Reward Circuit:  How the Brain Responds to Natural Rewards and Drugs

The Swiss Cheese Model of Drug Addiction