Legalization of marijuana puts parents of teens on notice

Marijuana is in the news, not only due to the increasing availability of medicinal forms in communities across the country, but because several states might follow Colorado’s lead and legalize the drug.

For some, the discussion downplays or even avoids mentioning how marijuana addiction ensnares young men and women in their formative years. Neglecting to bring up this important topic can endanger the life of your teen. If anything, the issue of legalization has overshadowed the harmful qualities of marijuana itself.

“There is a common misconception that marijuana is not addictive,” says Dr. Thomas Wright, chief medical officer at Rosecrance, one of the country’s leading teen substance abuse treatment centers. “Marijuana is indeed addictive, and teenagers become addicted to substances more quickly than adults and, therefore, are the most vulnerable.”

Wright feels that a light-handed approach to marijuana can cause teens to think they can experiment with the drug risk-free. That’s a dangerous thought, according to Wright. “There is no safe level of substance use among teenagers,” he says. “Teens’ brains are still developing and substances can cause permanent damage.”

Addictive qualities

According to Wright, new research published in the journal Neuroscience found that the use of marijuana can cause structural damage to the brain. In addition, the National Institute on Drug Abuse outlines several points that can help parents discuss marijuana with their children:

-Marijuana is an addictive drug: According to the NIDA, about 9 percent of all first-time users can become addicted. For teens in this group, the number jumps to 17 percent.

-Marijuana addicts are the majority: Pot is the drug of choice for approximately 4.3 million of the 7.3 million people who abused or were addicted to an illegal substance in 2012. The percentages for teens are even higher: 74 percent for addicts ages 12-14 and 76 for those ages 15- 17.

-Marijuana is deadly behind the wheel: Marijuana use affects judgment, alertness, concentration, coordination and reaction time when driving. The use of pot also makes it difficult to judge distances and react to signals. Most important, marijuana shows up in the bloodstream of about 14 percent of drivers in fatal accidents, often in combination with alcohol or other drugs.

-Marijuana’s effects on attention, motivation, memory and learning can ruin your teen’s academic success.

Proactive effort

Parents often shy away from discussing substance abuse with their children for various reasons, including lack of knowledge and lack of a strategy. In some cases, they simply fear overplaying their role as parent and interfering too much in their children’s lives. Wright, who specializes in working with adolescents who have a co-existing or secondary diagnosis in addition to an addiction disorder, says concerns about excessive parenting are invalid. In fact, he says, teens are looking for knowledge and backup so that when faced with the offer of an addictive substance, they will be equipped to handle the situation.

“Through decades of experience, we understand that teenagers don’t want to become addicted to substances; they want to have healthy lives,” says Wright. “Teenagers want their parents to actively parent and give them the guidance and support they need, and that includes how to navigate what is happening around substances today. Parents should ask what their teens are doing, address the pressures they are facing, act immediately when they suspect their teen is in trouble and advocate for help in their teen needs it.”