A concern among many parents is that their child will experiment with drugs. In particular, they wonder if their child will ever engage in cannabis consumption. These concerns were heightened with the passage of recreational marijuana legalization in several states. Washington State experienced a lot of apprehension from concerned parents after Initiative 502 was passed in 2012. But, were their concerns realized? Have teens actually seen an increase in marijuana usage?
A Look Back at Teen Cannabis Use
Before diving into the discussion, let’s remember back to when we were in those angsty teenage years. If you had any social life, even if it was occasional, you have probably been in a situation where a friend, or maybe a friend of a friend, pulled out a joint and asked if you wanted to get high.
Maybe you partook, maybe you didn’t, and maybe you thought of what your parents would think? Maybe you didn’t give a second thought to what they might think because, hey, it’s your life and you can do whatever you want. Or, maybe you were the friend of a friend offering the cannabis in the first place.
These scenarios are playing out all across America, in legal cannabis states and otherwise, right this very moment.
Because of this, it can be tough to speculate if legalization really plays a role in teen usage.
The Science behind Teen Cannabis Consumption
While we’d like to think our parents simply didn’t want us to get caught with an illicit substance that may get us tossed in jail or, more likely, stuck with a ridiculously large fine and mandatory AA meeting participation, there is more logic to the concerned parental.
There is science that backs illogical responses and reactions by teenagers. You might think you’re in control and practically an adult when you’re 17. You might even act more mature than your peers. But, are you?
Scientists used to think the brain was basically done forming before high school. However, this data has proven untrue over the years. Instead, it’s now been confirmed that the prefrontal cortex is still not fully developed during a teen’s high school years.
So, what is the prefrontal cortex? Well, it’s a part of the brain that is right behind your forehead and acts as the CEO of the mind. It is responsible for all sorts of things including memory, planning, organization and mood. As it forms, teenagers will naturally become better at reasoning, impulse control and judging the safety of situations. Ultimately, while cannabis is rather safe, the overall situation may not be and a teen’s brain may or may not process this; a nightmare parent scenario.
Additionally, a teen is more susceptible to addiction than an adult. While it’s shown that cannabis itself is not addictive, behaviors are – hence marijuana use disorder. This is four to seven times more likely in people who start consuming cannabis before age 18.
Does Cannabis Legalization Increase Teen Marijuana Use?
So, should parents be concerned about their teenagers using cannabis? Maybe the answer is yes. Ultimately, more research is needed to determine if cannabis is detrimental to a teenager’s development – it never hurts to be cautious though. The real question is, has cannabis legalization in Washington increased teen cannabis use? Well, we finally have the answer.
In 2016, more than 230,000 Washington students in grades 8-12, representing all 39 counties, 236 school districts, and over 1,000 schools participated in the Healthy Youth Survey. Here are the results:
These students admitted to marijuana use in the last 30 days:
- 6% of 8th graders
- 17% of 10th graders
- 26% of 12th graders
While that might be alarming to parents, only half of the students consumed cannabis on six or more days in that month. Additionally, these statistics indicate that numbers have remained steady, rather than increasing over the years after legalization.
However, there are other areas where education is needed and, luckily, companies who are excited to take on these conversations. Dispensaries like Mary Jane’s House of Grass encourage this open dialogue and seek to promote awareness of proper cannabis usage. Just like alcohol, cannabis use is a privilege that comes with age and, more importantly, full brain development.
One area that is changing in 8th graders is the perceived risks associated with cannabis. While cannabis has exponential benefits for adults, as discussed above there are specific scientific reasons teens should not yet engage.
While 53% of 8th graders understood the risk, only 48% recognized these effects in 2016. Today, about one in five 8th graders, one in three 10th graders and 50% of 12th graders perceive zero to slight risk associated with regular cannabis use.
Ultimately, this is what the data is telling us:
- Legalization does not increase teen cannabis use
- Cannabis among teenagers remains stagnant
- Education may be needed to ensure teenagers recognize the risks specific to them
Dispensaries like Mary Jane’s House of Grass encourage recreational cannabis experimentation for adults over 21 years old. Having seen the benefits for both themselves and consumers, they know that cannabis can relieve insomnia, pain, depression, nausea and many more conditions in people with fully formed brains.
Even though cannabis poses minimal risk to adults there is not enough research on teen usage, which is why it is important to encourage safe, legal cannabis use and discourage teenage experimentation. With that said, we all know that teens will experiment and for this reason, we strongly encourage parents to develop an open dialogue with their children starting from a young age, just as one does with alcohol.