According to the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teenagers are engaging in fewer risky behaviors than their Gen X parents did. This is, of course, good news.
Now for the bad news.
While teenagers might be binge-drinking less and having less sex than the previous generation did, marijuana use among teens, which had declined from the late 1990s through the mid-to-late 2000s, is on the rise again. This is a problem because, despite our culture’s increasingly casual attitudes toward pot, research suggests that marijuana use can damage the developing teen brain.
If kids are behaving more conservatively than their parents did as teens and engaging in fewer risky or harmful activities, why are they smoking more pot? Why do 60 percent of high school seniors say they think marijuana is safe? And why are more of them using marijuana than smoking cigarettes or drinking? How have our kids gotten the idea that pot is no big deal?
Perhaps one reason kids don’t see pot as dangerous is because they know (or think) their parents smoked it. Even if parents haven’t come clean with their kids about their own marijuana use, teens who have watched any of the ‘80s stoner classics or who have seen reruns of “That ’70s Show” know that smoking pot was “cool” even when Mom and Dad were young.
Some parents are reluctant to make a big deal out of marijuana use. After all, we turned out okay, right?
Unfortunately, our kids might not. Marijuana is more potent now than what people were smoking 30 years ago. In fact, the average THC (the psychoactive ingredient in pot) content of marijuana has increased from less than 3 to 4 percent in the 1990s, to nearly 13 percent today. That makes it easier to overdose on marijuana, something that results not in death, but in panic, disorientation, loss of control and in some cases, hospitalization.
Teenagers also might be more inclined to use pot because of the increased availability of marijuana edibles. Brownies, cookies and even gummy bears are now common forms of marijuana consumption.
Drug paraphernalia and the need to be super secretive makes smoking marijuana seem dark and dangerous and might make some kids reluctant to use it. But a gummy bear or a cookie are pleasant to see and taste, and easy to conceal and consume. It’s terrifying to realize that kids could be sitting in a movie, in class, or in the living room using marijuana and teachers and parents wouldn’t know it.
And consuming edible marijuana might be more dangerous than smoking pot. It’s nearly impossible to tell how much pot is in a marijuana cookie or brownie, and manufacturers can’t guarantee the even distribution of pot within a single edible. So one half of a marijuana cookie might contain much more THC than the other half. This makes treating a marijuana overdose tricky.
Where are these edible marijuana products coming from? While it’s certain that homemade goodies are a common source, there are eight states where marijuana is legal for recreational use. Like other marijuana products, buyers must be 21 to purchase edibles, but just as with alcohol, teenagers who want pot can usually find a source.
The legalization of marijuana in some states has made it easier to get pot, and it seems to be changing attitudes about the use of this drug. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the less harmful teens perceive a drug to be, the more the use of that drug increases. Since pot is legal, many kids may believe it can’t really be harmful.
Pot is a big deal, though. It’s up to parents, whatever their own drug history, to help teens see the dangers of marijuana and to continually point out that just because a drug seems innocent, or is legal, doesn’t mean it is safe — especially for the developing teenage brain.
Laura Hanby Hudgens is a part-time high school teacher, a freelance writer and a mom of four. She lives with her husband and children on a buffalo farm in the Ozark Hills. Find her on Twitter @charmingfarming.