Marijuana and Adolescence: Questions and Answers

Dangerousness, occasional consumption or dependency, gateway to other drugs, school-based prevention: the questions all parents ask themselves about marijuana use during adolescence

Is marijuana dangerous for teenagers?

marijuana-plant

During adolescence the brain is still developing so it is dangerous to consume marijuana at this age. The search for intense sensations and a desire to test one’s own limits are typical features of adolescence. Marijuana intensifies risk-taking and increases the probability of accidents. It also perturbs cognitive functions and memory, particularly in teenagers who smoke on a regular basis, which can lead to a wide range of problems at school. Lastly, the use of marijuana provokes serious psychiatric problems in high risk subjects, such as bipolar disorders, schizophrenia or anxiety and depression. This is worrying because the earlier these psychiatric disorders appear, the more serious the prognosis. Ultimately, the impact of marijuana on health is not at all the same before and after the age of 25.

Is there a difference between regular and occasional use?

Addiction or dependence on marijuana develops when it is consumed on a regular basis. As a teenager partakes of it more frequently, he runs a greater risk of it becoming a habit and of developing a certain tolerance (when a larger dose is needed in order to produce a similar effect) with the result that it becomes a daily habit. On the other hand, it is not possible to pinpoint the number of joints per week it takes to become dependent. This depends on different factors including metabolism, quality of the product, frequency of use and the reasons which lead to a teenager using marijuana.

Typically, occasional use means smoking a joint or two during the week-end or with friends at a party. Regular use is defined as smoking 10 or more joints per month, according to the World Health Organisation.

How can the subject be approached with teens?

young-man-smoking

As a parent you must adapt the way you approach the subject to the situation. If your teenager has very bad results at school, if you no longer see him at home or if he refuses to have a serious discussion, it’s reasonable to ask whether he has also a marijuana-related issue. On the other hand, if his studies are going well , but you know that he has already used marijuana, you could approach the subject by saying: ″ I don’t think you have a problem, but I know that some teens can become dependent on marijuana and that worries me, so can we talk about it?″. Your teen will agree to the conversation, as long as he does not feel he is under attack. But it is much more difficult if the problem of overconsumption or even dependence already exists. Teenagers hate to ″have a problem″ and they will say that ″everything is fine″.  If this happens, you must show him your concern and your interest in him, not only in his academic future: ″you don’t think you have a problem but we think you do″. You must take your courage in both hands and insist until he agrees to consult a specialist.

Does the use of marijuana lead to the use of hard drugs?

The immense majority of people who use what we call ″hard″ drugs started out by using marijuana but there is no direct cause and effect relation between the two types of drug. Using the same logic we could also say ″all drug users started out by riding a bike″.

Going on to hard drugs entails other fragility factors linked to the person and his social, family or economic environment. However it cannot be denied that there is a statistical link between taking marijuana and experimenting with other drugs. Sooner or later the marijuana user will have the opportunity to try another drug.

In addition, regular marijuana smokers often have a particular lifestyle and a permissive relationship with things which are forbidden, parties and frequent outings. The idea of trying another product, for recreational use, does not seem shocking to anyone with this kind of lifestyle. It should be remembered that this is more experimentation than anything else.  In fact, if marijuana has come to be accepted in most European countries, the number of regular users of heroin or cocaine has remained relatively stable.

How can preventive action be taken at school?

It is often during the secondary school years that marijuana is tried for the first time and this is why it is important to prevent or identify problematic use as soon as possible.

However, preventive action at school should not be improvised by untrained or badly informed teachers. For example, saying: ″Be careful, it’s dangerous, don’t go near it″ is counter-productive. The teacher who only points out the negative effects of marijuana is facing an entire class of which at least half has already had some experience of marijuana (and its often pleasant effects), with the other half tempted to try it out for themselves.

Demonising the product will result in the teacher being completely out of phase with his students. Most teenagers know someone ″who smokes″ and who visibly does not suffer from any harmful effects. In addition they see adults consuming alcohol and psychoactive drugs and conclude that we are not credible.

adolescent-wall

The prevention of addictive behaviour at school should be carried out in the context of a program of health studies or another appropriate subject which is likely to be continuous and progressive, and linked to other issues which occur in the students’ lives.

Drug abuse is not an isolated phenomenon but is part of the overall life of the teenager. For this reason, prevention should be part of a global program which encourages the acquisition of skills as well as personal and social values.

Effective prevention of marijuana (and addictive behaviour in general) should make young people aware of other important questions such as development during adolescence,  the ability to cope or manage emotions, thereby encouraging an  alliance with young people which will make it easier to talk more freely about marijuana.

What about drug testing in schools?

In certain countries such as the United States, schools can choose to carry out testing for marijuana (and other drugs) either on a random basis where for example one student out of 10 is tested, or whenever the use of marijuana is suspected. The declared object of these tests is to decrease the student’s consumption and dissuade those who are tempted to try.

Testing for drugs at school is usually part of a wider policy, as part of a global prevention program which also includes evaluation, counseling and treatment services for students tested positive, according to each one’s specific case. However, some schools have adopted a strict approach whereby they do not hesitate to bar students from all sporting activities or simply expel them which is as unjustified as it is prejudicial to the future of these students.[/vc_column_text]

Marijuana and Adolescence: Questions and Answers

Is marijuana dangerous for teenagers?

marijuana-plant

During adolescence the brain is still developing so it is dangerous to consume marijuana at this age. The search for intense sensations and a desire to test one’s own limits are typical features of adolescence. Marijuana intensifies risk-taking and increases the probability of accidents. It also perturbs cognitive functions and memory, particularly in teenagers who smoke on a regular basis, which can lead to a wide range of problems at school. Lastly, the use of marijuana provokes serious psychiatric problems in high risk subjects, such as bipolar disorders, schizophrenia or anxiety and depression. This is worrying because the earlier these psychiatric disorders appear, the more serious the prognosis. Ultimately, the impact of marijuana on health is not at all the same before and after the age of 25.

Is there a difference between regular and occasional use?

Addiction or dependence on marijuana develops when it is consumed on a regular basis. As a teenager partakes of it more frequently, he runs a greater risk of it becoming a habit and of developing a certain tolerance (when a larger dose is needed in order to produce a similar effect) with the result that it becomes a daily habit. On the other hand, it is not possible to pinpoint the number of joints per week it takes to become dependent. This depends on different factors including metabolism, quality of the product, frequency of use and the reasons which lead to a teenager using marijuana.

Typically, occasional use means smoking a joint or two during the week-end or with friends at a party. Regular use is defined as smoking 10 or more joints per month, according to the World Health Organisation.

How can the subject be approached with teens?

young-man-smoking

As a parent you must adapt the way you approach the subject to the situation. If your teenager has very bad results at school, if you no longer see him at home or if he refuses to have a serious discussion, it’s reasonable to ask whether he has also a marijuana-related issue. On the other hand, if his studies are going well , but you know that he has already used marijuana, you could approach the subject by saying: ″ I don’t think you have a problem, but I know that some teens can become dependent on marijuana and that worries me, so can we talk about it?″. Your teen will agree to the conversation, as long as he does not feel he is under attack. But it is much more difficult if the problem of overconsumption or even dependence already exists. Teenagers hate to ″have a problem″ and they will say that ″everything is fine″.  If this happens, you must show him your concern and your interest in him, not only in his academic future: ″you don’t think you have a problem but we think you do″. You must take your courage in both hands and insist until he agrees to consult a specialist.

Does the use of marijuana lead to the use of hard drugs?

The immense majority of people who use what we call ″hard″ drugs started out by using marijuana but there is no direct cause and effect relation between the two types of drug. Using the same logic we could also say ″all drug users started out by riding a bike″.

Going on to hard drugs entails other fragility factors linked to the person and his social, family or economic environment. However it cannot be denied that there is a statistical link between taking marijuana and experimenting with other drugs. Sooner or later the marijuana user will have the opportunity to try another drug.

In addition, regular marijuana smokers often have a particular lifestyle and a permissive relationship with things which are forbidden, parties and frequent outings. The idea of trying another product, for recreational use, does not seem shocking to anyone with this kind of lifestyle. It should be remembered that this is more experimentation than anything else.  In fact, if marijuana has come to be accepted in most European countries, the number of regular users of heroin or cocaine has remained relatively stable.

How can preventive action be taken at school?

It is often during the secondary school years that marijuana is tried for the first time and this is why it is important to prevent or identify problematic use as soon as possible.

However, preventive action at school should not be improvised by untrained or badly informed teachers. For example, saying: ″Be careful, it’s dangerous, don’t go near it″ is counter-productive. The teacher who only points out the negative effects of marijuana is facing an entire class of which at least half has already had some experience of marijuana (and its often pleasant effects), with the other half tempted to try it out for themselves.

Demonising the product will result in the teacher being completely out of phase with his students. Most teenagers know someone ″who smokes″ and who visibly does not suffer from any harmful effects. In addition they see adults consuming alcohol and psychoactive drugs and conclude that we are not credible.

adolescent-wall

The prevention of addictive behaviour at school should be carried out in the context of a program of health studies or another appropriate subject which is likely to be continuous and progressive, and linked to other issues which occur in the students’ lives.

Drug abuse is not an isolated phenomenon but is part of the overall life of the teenager. For this reason, prevention should be part of a global program which encourages the acquisition of skills as well as personal and social values.

Effective prevention of marijuana (and addictive behaviour in general) should make young people aware of other important questions such as development during adolescence,  the ability to cope or manage emotions, thereby encouraging an  alliance with young people which will make it easier to talk more freely about marijuana.

What about drug testing in schools?

In certain countries such as the United States, schools can choose to carry out testing for marijuana (and other drugs) either on a random basis where for example one student out of 10 is tested, or whenever the use of marijuana is suspected. The declared object of these tests is to decrease the student’s consumption and dissuade those who are tempted to try.

Testing for drugs at school is usually part of a wider policy, as part of a global prevention program which also includes evaluation, counseling and treatment services for students tested positive, according to each one’s specific case. However, some schools have adopted a strict approach whereby they do not hesitate to bar students from all sporting activities or simply expel them which is as unjustified as it is prejudicial to the future of these students.