There are 18 states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana. But how should parents feel about teens and cannabis-use? Find out here.
by Lori Gurtman | Lori Gurtman lives in Aspen, Colorado with her husband, two teenage children, and Old English Sheepdog. Reading and writing are her favorite escape, but when she isn’t doing that, she can be found on the mountain: hiking, biking, or skiing. Lori is also a published author, freelance writer, certified proofreader, and college essay tutor—who is passionate about empowering her students to write from their hearts. Follow her on Twitter @lorigurtman.
This post contains affiliate links. Learn more about affiliate links and how they work by reading our Affiliate Disclaimer HERE.
Over the past decade, the number of states in the United States that have legalized cannabis for recreational and medicinal purposes has increased significantly, making the plant much more accessible to adults and teenagers alike.
Opponents of these changing laws have expressed concern that the legalization of marijuana is encouraging more kids to smoke weed. However, recent studies have shown the opposite, particularly in Colorado and Washington, where the number of teens using cannabis has decreased.
Nonetheless, as weed is becoming more mainstream and socially acceptable, the question remains: is it still considered harmful for teens to smoke weed?
Before answering the question, it is essential to understand a bit of history as to how cannabis became federally illegal in the first place and the stigma surrounding a plant that humans have been using as medicine for thousands and thousands of years.
History of Illegal Cannabis
Prior to the late 1930s, cannabis was found in most Americans’ medicine cabinets as a remedy for various ailments, such as headaches, toothaches, PMS symptoms, stomach aches, etc. And get this: the companies credited with making cannabis-derived medicines were none other than Big Pharma, and these remedies were available for purchase at neighboring pharmacies.
So, what happened?
Racism, greed, propaganda, and the failure of alcohol prohibition led to cannabis’ bad wrap––and its ultimate demise as a healing remedy. The leading crusader of the campaign against weed was Henry Anslinger, the head of The Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
When Anslinger, a racist and xenophobe, discovered that recreational marijuana use was widespread amongst some Mexican-Americans and Black Americans, specifically in the jazz community, he decided to target cannabis consumption as the new evil, falsely claiming that it was responsible for demoralizing American culture.
After the 18th Amendment, which banned alcohol, was repealed, Anslinger needed to find a new scapegoat—and weed was the perfect antidote. His anti-weed messages focused on spreading inaccuracies about the hazards of cannabis and how it fueled murderers and other dangers in society. Anslinger successfully ignited mass hysteria with his falsehoods.
Anslinger’s tireless efforts eventually led to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, a law that didn’t officially ban cannabis but implemented strict regulations and high taxes on the plant.
The anti-cannabis propaganda has had a long-lasting effect on the American public, brainwashing people into thinking the plant was perilous. By the 1970s, the government officially turned a blind eye to the benefits of marijuana as medicine, and categorized it alongside lethal drugs like heroin.
Alcohol vs. Cannabis
Interesting facts about cannabis:
- The cannabis plant comprises a cannabinoid system that replicates the endocannabinoid receptors in the human body.
- Cannabis can be infused into foods (e.g. cannabis cookies) and beverages, or beauty products like body creams or CBD massage oil.
- Fatal overdoses are virtually nonexistent.
- Scientists have yet to uncover the multitude of medicinal health benefits.
- Marijuana is NOT a gateway drug, despite what many have been led to believe.
- Cannabis is not physically addictive.
Let us revisit the cannabis facts listed above and rewrite them about alcohol:
- Alcohol is NOT comprised of anything that mimics the human body.
- One of the leading causes of death in America is alcohol.
- There are more adverse health risks associated with drinking alcohol than benefits.
- Alcohol is a gateway drug.
- Alcohol is addictive.
To sum it up: alcohol consumption is significantly more dangerous than weed. Not to mention, too much of it is poisonous, and there are little to no medicinal benefits to alcohol. Cannabis, on the other hand, is all-natural and has the potential to heal and alleviate numerous ailments.
In addition, think about what happens when you drink too much: you lose your inhibitions, you might not remember what you said or did, you might blackout, and you might wake up with a nasty hangover.
Another issue with overdrinking is the risk of sexual assault occurring on behalf of the perpetrator and the victim. A person’s decision-making faculties are skewed when drunk, and memory loss is also a common byproduct.
I have had many discussions about this topic with my teenage children, warning them about the dangers of getting too drunk and encouraging them to refrain from engaging in sexual activities when they are inebriated. But my words are just words, and I need to trust that they will use good judgment and be careful when drinking alcohol. Although sexual assault can still occur under the influence of cannabis, it is not as likely, and I am much less concerned about it.
Parental POV: Teens and Cannabis Use
Now that we have the basics covered, we need to get to the issue of teens and weed.
Teenagers should not be smoking weed regularly. After all, their brains are not fully developed until they are 25 years old. However, we need to face the facts: most teenagers will experiment with drugs and alcohol before the legal age of 21.
Given a choice, I would much rather my teen children smoke weed than drink alcohol. Of course, if I had my way, I would prefer if they abstained from using all said substances, but I am realistic and know that will not happen.
Ingesting an excessive amount of weed or eating too many edibles can have negative consequences, but they are different than binge drinking. Worst case scenario: if you overdo it with the weed, you could throw up, you might feel dizzy, a feeling of being paranoid may persist, or you might just fall asleep. But at least it is not fatal.
Back when I was in high school, fights occasionally broke out at parties. The underlying cause of these physical altercations—binge drinking. Teenagers would sit around consuming inappropriate amounts of beer, and their raging hormones and out-of-control behaviors led to fighting. Imagine this exact scenario, but instead of drinking, the teens smoke weed. While alcohol has the potential to get someone ramped up, marijuana has the opposite reaction, creating a sedative effect. Therefore, the odds of a fight breaking out will probably not occur.
I have always imparted the motto: everything in moderation––to my children. The problem with teens and marijuana is that it is easy to get away with using it without getting caught. Kids can smoke vape pens and eat edibles during school or in their house when their parents are home. One telltale sign is that it might make their eyes bloodshot, which can be resolved with some eye drops.
When teenagers abuse cannabis, and it starts to affect their grades, productivity, and social life, it shows a deeper issue needs to be addressed. The same holds true for alcohol and other drugs. Again, overindulgence in almost anything has the potential to cause harm to our bodies.
Overall, I am not advocating that teens should smoke weed at all. On the contrary, their developing brains must maintain an optimal level of health through a nutritious diet, limited screen time, adequate physical activity, and staying away from drugs and alcohol. But as a parent who understands teen behavior, I need to be realistic.
Most teenagers are addicted to their screens, overeat processed foods and sugar, and occasionally use drugs and alcohol. I can lecture my children until I am blue in the face, reminding them to treat their bodies well. In the end, it is up to them to make smart, safe decisions and care about their well-being.
My recommendation to all teen parents is to keep the lines of communication open, implement reasonable rules and boundaries, and model good behavior as often as possible.