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Marijuana & Teens

Marijuana use in teens is not a new topic and currently its particularly prevalent as cannabis legalization, for either medicinal marijuana or recreational use, spreads around Utah and across the country. As a result of more cannabis-friendly attitudes nationwide the influx across our southern border has decreased steadily and significantly from 2011 when almost 2.5 million pounds of the federally illegal substance were seized. However, because surrounding state production has increased, its a fact that teen marijuana use and exposure is still quite common.

Thankfully teen marijuana use in Utah is now a declining trend. A survey in 2015 of 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th, grade students found that almost 90% considered marijuana use at their age “wrong to very wrong”. Programs and professionals like Lifeline For Youth are having a positive impact.

A prime reason marijuana use in youth is so widespread is from the climate of the current pop culture. Musical mentions and celebrity promotions, as well as easier availability of “legal-illegal” weed, still make this a pressing reason for talking to your teen about marijuana. Because of the escalating incidence of exposure through these avenues, children and teens in the same study above view teen pot use as “less risky” than it used to be.

Let’s be clear too, that the type of cannabis that we are referring to is the more psychoactive varieties that have a higher level of THC vs the medical varieties that have significantly higher proportions of CBD constituents.

Risks of Teen Marijuana Use

Because this is such a debated subject, fact and fiction are thrown around with abandon. In order to talk to your teen about pot, which we’ll address later, let’s get down some basic facts about how marijuana use effects teens.

Mental Side Effects

Reduced school performance is a real thing with even casual pot use. Affecting the attention levels and memory in all realms of learning for days and even weeks at a time, using weed has been found to alter the neurodevelopment of teens

The primary delivery method of pot use is through inhalation, whether the whole herb, or waxes, cannabis oils, or shatters (used in vaping).  This method especially affects the hippocampus which is responsible for regulating short term memory. Overstimulation of the endocannabinoid receptors in the brain prevents the brain from developing memories.

In chronic marijuana use teens are at risk for developing false memories, and under daily usage for the long term, juvenile brains have shown deformed hippocampal regions by their early 20s. They perform nearly 20% worse in the long term memory tests and verbal memory test and have an overall poorer performance at general cognitive tasks!

Physical Side Effects

Tests have shown damage to neurotransmitters that regulate dopamine receptors. Because dopamine is a natural hormone that regulates happiness, these lower release levels (where impulse control is regulated) can cause depression under long term use. Those who begin smoking weed as teens, specifically from 16 to 20, are more likely to have marijuana dependency problems as adults.

Long term use, even occasional or sporadic use, can cause persistent coughs due to carcinogen damage from the ammonia and hydrogen cyanide found in the plant. Trouble breathing and overproduction of phlegm and mucus are also common with similar results to tobacco use.

THC of today’s strains can be from 6-10 times stronger than the weed of a generation ago. This poses some striking problems for the heart. THC increases heart rate up to 50 beats per minute up to 3 hours. Even though we think of heart problems as markers of those advanced in years,  the possibility of a heart attack, and developing heart rhythm disorders as well as stroke is present in teen pot use as well, especially when combined with energy drinks that can adversely affect the heart. Heart disease doesn’t have to be a factor in THC related heart problems and studies evidence increased acute coronary syndrome, even in the younger marijuana users.

Those youth who may be pregnant at the time of using cannabis pose risks to the unborn child as toxins can easily pass from mother to child via the placenta. Research has found that this can affect the long term memory of the child as well. These effects are also present when using THC products while breastfeeding

Other Side Effects of Using Marijuana

  • Withdrawal can trigger depression, insomnia, anxiety, and loss of appetite.
  • Possibility of testicular cancer relationship. Though studies are not definitive, there is a correlation with observed rates of testicular cancer in men.
  • Possible limiting of sexual function. Contrary to the thought of stimulating sexual activity, tests in animals show that penile tissue is affected and can actually impede the function of the gonads.

Social & Psychological Effects of Marijuana

Real effects teens and youth need to be aware of is how even occasional but long term weed use can change them. Development of social anxiety and general anxiousness are a trait of chronic pot users. Notable personality changes in your loved one can be very concerning and data-gathering has shown the longer weed is utilized, the higher the risk of psychotic illness becomes as well as a drop in IQ and becoming fixed in lower socioeconomic circles.

Talking to Your Child About Marijuana Use

No one wants to see these issues arise. Remain open and available to your child and ask if they have run into the issue of marijuana. Being able to relate to them with instances from your own experience can help a great deal. Avoiding condemning tones and attitudes with the topic will encourage them to be open about questions they may have.

If you have concerns that your child may be using marijuana, and have questions about how to help your child don’t hesitate to reach out to Lifeline For Youth. Our trained personnel can guide you through the maze and help you find answers. Give us a call today!

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