Colorado and Washington were the first two states in the country to legalize the use of recreational marijuana for people aged 21 years and older. Despite the legal purchase age restriction, both states are starting to see increasing problems relating to youths and teens using marijuana.
Increasingly Potent Marijuana
There are reports from doctors, educators and parents pointing to the fact that young people are obtaining edibles with tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC. This is the psychoactive component in marijuana that leads people to feel high. In addition to edibles, something called “shatter” may also be a growing problem among teens. Shatter is a honey-like substance that’s heated and then inhaled.
The access teens may have to both substances is causing some concern in Colorado.
According to a Washington Post report, the average THC content of marijuana is 68%. That is significantly stronger than marijuana in previous generations, resulting in more concentrated consumption of the substance.
More potent weed has led to more calls to poison control centers and more visits to emergency departments. For example, the Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver reported an increase in visits related to cannabis symptoms from 161 in 2005 to 777 in 2015. Reported symptoms included paranoia, psychosis and vomiting. The biggest increase occurred between the legalized introduction of medical marijuana in 2009 and retail legalization in 2014, according to a published study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Symptoms of Marijuana Use In Teens
A psychiatrist, Libby Stuyt, who spoke with the Washington Post and who works with teens in southwest Colorado says she sees the effects of highly potent marijuana. She says she’s seen increases in addiction, suicide, depression, anxiety and psychosis.
In the most recent Healthy Youth Survey in Washington, 20% of surveyed eight-graders and almost half of 12th graders said they didn’t see much risk in regular marijuana use. Overall, many teens see the use of marijuana as having fewer risks than the use of cigarettes or alcohol.
Increasing Teen Marijuana Use
A study cited in the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, published in 2018, found that teen marijuana use is at a high point, compared to the past 30 years. The study highlights how marijuana today is grown differently than it was in the past and found that it can have anywhere from two to three times more THC than previous types of marijuana.
There is conflicting research from other outlets, however, at least in terms of the prevalence of teen marijuana use. For example, a study published recently in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse which looked at high school students from 1999 to 2015 showed that the number of teens smoking marijuana was 1.1% lower in states with medical marijuana laws as opposed to those that hadn’t enacted such laws. Yet, this study didn’t look specifically at states with legalized recreational use, nor did it extend past 2015. Another potential issue with this study was the fact that both Colorado and Washington were excluded from the study.
A specific study looking at the use of marijuana among youth in Colorado from the Colorado Department of Public Safety showed more specifically how legalization might affect the use of marijuana among young people. The report showed that Colorado hadn’t seen an increase in marijuana use among young people, but also cites its use as the most common reason for expulsions during the 2016 and 2017 school year. There were negative effects of marijuana use on driving in the study. For example, the number of fatalities in Colorado where a driver tested positive for THC went up to 21% in 2017.
While these separate studies can provide a glimpse into trends in teen and youth marijuana use, the study featured by the Washington Post wasn’t necessarily indicative of increasing marijuana use among youth. Instead, it was focused on the increasingly severe symptoms teens and youth are experiencing because of the availability of more potent marijuana.
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, done at McGill University in Quebec, found that using marijuana in adolescence is linked with a risk of developing major depression as a young adult, as well as suicidal thoughts. Many of the negative effects of marijuana on young people are associated with brain development.
As more states move to legalize recreational marijuana, it’s likely that we’ll also see growing research on how this affects not just youth but people of all ages.
If you or your teen has a problem with marijuana, please contact The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake to learn more about treatment options.
Oldham, Jennifer. “Potent pot, vulnerable teens trigger concerns in first states to legalize marijuana.” The Washington Post, June 16, 2019. Accessed June 25, 2019.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. “Marijuana and Teens.” May 2018. Accessed June 25, 2019.
Newman, Katelyn. “Study: Marijuana Policies Not Increasing Teen Use.” U.S. News & World Report, February 15, 2019. Accessed June 25, 2019.
Tabachnik, Sam. “Colorado releases 5-year marijuana study on teen use, driving states.” Aspen Times, October 26, 2018. Accessed June 25, 2019.
Saphier, Nicole, M.D. “Pot and teens- I’m a mom and a doctor, here’s what I tell my own teenagers.” Fox News, March 2, 2019. Accessed June 25, 2019.