The increasing legalization of recreational and medical marijuana has made the drug more popular than ever, including among teens. Some people assume that teen cannabis users only face serious risks if they develop cannabis use disorder (cannabis addiction).
However, a recent study found that even casual marijuana use can have devastating mental health effects in young people.
Teens & Casual Cannabis Use
Recently, researchers at Columbia University published a study on the casual use of cannabis among teens in the United States.
Published in JAMA Open Network, the study used data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual survey that gathers information on the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs.
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The study involved about 70,000 U.S. residents between the ages of 12 and 17. It found that about 1 in 10 U.S. teens are casual cannabis users. That means they use cannabis without meeting the criteria for cannabis addiction.
These criteria include frequent cannabis cravings, an inability to quit or cut down on cannabis, and relationship issues resulting from cannabis use.
According to the study, teens who casually use cannabis are 2 to 2.5 times more likely than non-users to skip school and get poor grades. They also face an increased risk of aggression, fighting, and arrest.
In addition, they are 2 to 4 times more likely than non-users to develop a variety of mental health problems. These problems occur due to marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Mental Health Risks Of Casual Cannabis Use
The cannabinoid (a compound from cannabis) THC can disrupt adolescent brain development. Specifically, it impacts the development of the cerebral cortex.
This part of the brain helps regulate important functions such as:
Due to its impact on the developing brain, casual cannabis use has been linked to mental health issues among teens.
Major Depression & Suicidal Thoughts
Major depression is a psychiatric disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities. It can also lead to suicidal thoughts and attempts.
Some teens use marijuana to try and ease their depression and suicidal thoughts. While the drug may temporarily make you feel better, it can worsen symptoms of depression over time, especially in teens and young adults.
Cannabis exposure during adolescence can lead to numerous cognitive issues, including:
- slower thinking
- trouble concentrating
- trouble solving problems
- poor decision-making skills
- weaker memory
These issues can prevent teens from succeeding as they enter young adulthood.
Psychosis is a temporary loss of connection with reality. Common symptoms include:
- paranoia (feeling unreasonably distrustful of others)
- delusions (holding beliefs that aren’t based in reality)
- hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t really there)
Studies show that teens who use cannabis face a higher risk of psychosis as adults. Also, regular use of cannabis may worsen symptoms of schizophrenia, a mental disorder that can cause frequent episodes of psychosis.
It may also trigger the onset of schizophrenia in people with a genetic risk factor.
Teens who use marijuana are more likely to develop drug addiction (substance use disorder) later in life. While some get addicted to marijuana itself, others get addicted to more powerful drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
Common symptoms of addiction include:
- tolerance (needing increasingly larger or more frequent doses of a drug to feel the desired effects)
- physical dependence (experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you don’t use drugs)
frequent drug cravings
- loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
How To Keep Teens Safe
As the prevalence of teen cannabis use rises, public health experts are urging parents to talk to their kids about the effects of marijuana.
Make sure your child knows that all forms of marijuana use (including smoking, vaping, and eating edibles) can have negative health outcomes, especially among teens and young adults.
Some teens think they can avoid the negative effects of cannabis by not engaging in daily use. Remind them that even casual use poses an increased risk of depression, trouble concentrating, and other mental health concerns.
Watch For Signs Of Mental Health Issues
Remember that many recreational users of marijuana use it to self-medicate mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
That’s why it’s important to watch your teen for signs of poor mental health, such as appetite changes, sleep changes, and loss of motivation. When you help your child seek mental health treatment, you greatly reduce their risk of substance misuse.
Find Help For A Substance Use Disorder
If you or someone you love struggles with marijuana use, please reach out to Bedrock Recovery Center. Our board-certified healthcare offers personalized, evidence-based interventions to help you or your loved one recover from addiction and co-occurring mental illnesses.
- The British Medical Journal (BMJ) https://www.bmj.com/content/325/7374/1212
- Columbia University Department of Psychiatry https://www.columbiapsychiatry.org/news/recreational-cannabis-use-among-u-s-adolescents-poses-risk-adverse-mental-health-and-life-outcomes
- Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2804450
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/there-link-between-marijuana-use-psychiatric-disorders
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/pep21-06-01-001.pdf