In January of 2014, residents in the state of Colorado experienced the outcome of one of the most impacting decisions regarding the legalization of a controlled substance with marijuana. Washington State was not far behind, and several other states now have measures fighting towards legalization. However, while pot may now be legal in some states, it doesn’t mean the drug is harmless, especially in regards to teenage drug use.
Teenagers and drug use have gone hand in hand throughout history. The teen years mark an era of experimentation and heavy peer pressure, resulting in a higher likelihood of experimenting with drugs like pot. With its legalization, use of this drug has become largely normalized. In fact, 64 percent of high school seniors now believe that using pot is harmless, up almost 30 percent from 20 years ago, according to statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Pot is also the most commonly abused illicit substance among adolescents.
The perceived belief that legality means there’s no consequences for using the drug also makes teens more susceptible. However, even in legalized states, anyone under the age of 21 can still face legal problems for possessing or using marijuana, but the word “legal” can be deceiving.
While states have put in place strict guidelines for who can purchase pot and where it can be used, what adult users do once they’ve purchased the drug is more difficult to monitor. Like cigarettes and alcohol, legal pot use in the home creates increased accessibility to teenagers who are also living in the same space. Teenagers can also use adults to purchase the drug for them. If both parents and teenagers don’t see a harm in using pot, the potential for abuse becomes exponential.
There are varying levels of risk when teenagers use marijuana. Physical dangers include increased heart rate and lung damage. In fact, smoking the drug often leads to severe lung infections and an increased risk of developing pneumonia. Abuse of this drug can also increase risks of mental health problems like depression and anxiety, especially in teens who are still developing cognitively. Like most controlled drugs, regular use of pot can lead to addiction, with an estimated 10 to 30 percent of users developing a dependence on the drug, according to research from Cambridge pharmacology professor Leslie L. Iverson.
Prevention starts at home. If you’re in a state where the drug is legal, watch for changes in behavior and signs of pot use, especially with the unique smell of the drug. Stay involved in your child’s life through open communication. Know who their friends are, and talk to them about the dangers of pot use even if you don’t suspect there’s a problem.
If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, know that there’s help out there. Seek out the help of a treatment center that specializes in teen addiction to ensure your loved one maintains the chance of a bright and successful future.