“Mother, may I smoke pot?”
What parents need to know as marijuana use increases across the country
“Is it OK if my teenager uses a little marijuana now and then?” one parent of a 17-year-old asked sociologist and advice columnist Christine Carter in a November 2020 issue of Greater Good, a University of California, Berkeley, publication. The parent wondered whether the drug could help the teen manage anxiety and difficulties that remote learning had compounded.
Carter answered with a resounding “no,” stemming from numerous studies showing marijuana’s harmful and irreversible effects on adolescent brain development. Instead of reducing anxiety, she warned it could increase it while impairing the teen’s executive and cognitive brain functions.
The marijuana legalization movement has brought about shifting attitudes about the drug, even among parents of teenagers. A growing body of research continues to underscore its harmful effects on adolescents.
One new Cambridge University study, published in Psychological Medicine, showed youth who used marijuana frequently experienced a 2-point IQ decline over time. Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of seven longitudinal studies following about 800 young adults who used marijuana frequently, testing their IQ scores before and after cannabis use, compared to 5,000 other adolescents who used it less than five times in their lifetime.
“Adolescence and early adulthood are crucial periods for completing education and establishing career trajectories and social relationships for later in life,” researchers wrote in the study. “Given the negative effects of cannabis use in this age group, reducing the prevalence of its use should remain a top priority.”
Meanwhile, a separate study published in January in the Journal of the American Medical Association connected marijuana use with higher self-harm and mortality rates among teens with mood disorders.
In states where marijuana has been legalized, the drug is becoming more prevalent and accessible for teens. A recent study of California youth showed a 23 percent increase in marijuana use among teens in the two school years following legalization in 2016—even though the minimum age for buying or possessing the drug legally is 21. Teens’ likelihood of lifetime use increased by 18 percent, according to a February report in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
So far, 15 states have legalized marijuana for recreational use for adults, and 36 states permit it for medicinal purposes.
Eying significant tax revenue, states such as Kansas, Minnesota, Virginia, and Wisconsin are considering marijuana legalization measures. In his January State of the Commonwealth address, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, cited racial disparities in drug convictions in his call for legalizing the drug. By taxing it, he said the state could “help communities most disproportionately impacted by the inequities in our laws.”
In light of increasing acceptance and legalization of marijuana, some researchers said parents need more education on the drug’s risks. “That’s true, but we also need to educate politicians and voters that promises of financial windfalls won’t somehow make pot safe,” John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, said in a recent Breakpoint podcast. “It’s not the government’s job to incentivize risky behaviors for financial gain.”