- Teen marijuana use has been soaring, and is up nearly 250% just since 2017. Tweet This
- The increases in cannabis use by teenagers, and the growing number of psychiatric and other problems those teens are experiencing are driven, in part, by the decisions of adults. Tweet This
- Recreational pot use in teens is associated with increased depression and increased suicidal thoughts, and with higher levels of truancy and fighting, as well as lower grade point averages. Tweet This
Pot is dangerous, especially to young people, causing all manner of psychiatric disorders. But America’s leadership class is committed to letting them smoke it anyway.
There’s been a major trend towards legalizing vice in America, including everything from legalizing gambling to repealing usury laws to allow payday loan stores. One manifestation of this trend has been marijuana legalization in various states. To be clear, pot is still illegal in America because it’s illegal at the federal level. But as it has been permitted at the state level in some places, the federal government has chosen to take a hands-off approach in those states, leaving pot de facto legal in growing parts of America. As with other social trends, there’s a feeling of inevitability about full legalization in the country.
There are a variety of rationales offered for why pot should be legal, but a common argument is that unlike “hard drugs,” marijuana is relatively harmless, certainly no worse than alcohol. Many adults today, and even some former presidents, smoked pot when younger with no apparent ill effect.
But just because some people can get away with smoking it doesn’t mean everyone can. And the pot today’s teenagers are smoking is not the same as the pot their parents smoked back in college. The concentrations of THC, its psychoactive chemical, in today’s marijuana are much higher today than in the past. Many teens also consume refined products, which can have THC levels of 90% or more.
What is the impact of this high potency pot on teenagers? Increasingly, psychiatric and other problems. According to a new study from Columbia University researchers, recreational pot use in teens is associated with increased depression and increased suicidal thoughts. It’s also associated with higher levels of truancy and fighting, as well as lower grade point averages.
It’s important to note that this study zeroed in on non-abusive recreational use, excluding people that researchers identified as having a drug problem. As one of the researchers noted, “We were surprised to see that cannabis use had such strong associations to adverse mental health and life outcomes for teens who did not meet the criteria for having a substance use condition.” Researchers noted that teenage brains are not fully mature, and that other studies have shown that teenage pot use interferes with brain development.
This is hardly the only study or article talking about the problems of pot use by teenagers or young adults. A new Danish study estimates that nearly a third of cases of schizophrenia in men in their 20s could be a result of pot use. The Washington Post recently ran a major story about how “parents are not ready for the new realities of teen cannabis use.” It features stories of multiple parents whose children started experiencing severe psychotic episodes as a result of pot, sometimes leading to suicide. The Post notes, “That sense of disbelief—pot wouldn’t do this—is prevalent among parents who have watched their teenagers become gripped by addiction.” The New York Post also wrote about parents who lost their children to suicide due to cannabis-induced psychosis. And as Politico noted earlier this year, scientists are only beginning to do serious research on the health effects of pot.
Teen marijuana use has been soaring, and is up nearly 250% just since 2017. The lead author of the study that discovered that fact told the Washington Post, “The dramatic rise in adolescent cannabis use in 2017 really does coincide with the wave of decriminalization in the country.” And she noted that legalization “contributed to the perception that it’s safe.”
In other words, the increases in cannabis use by teenagers, and the growing number of psychiatric and other problems those teens are experiencing are driven, in part, by the decisions that adults, especially in the governing class, have made to legalize the product. Legalization in this case has equaled social approval.
Given the serious problems we have already seen with marijuana use in the era of legalization—not just teenage psychosis, but others ranging from a surge in illegal growing and sales even in states where marijuana is legal, to a rise in traffic deaths from impaired driving—there should be a halt to further legalization or even a rollback.
But how likely is this? America’s leaders are fully committed to legalizing vice for profit. They aren’t likely to stop now with marijuana, no matter how many teenagers end up with serious mental health problems or even die.
Aaron M. Renn is a co-founder and Senior Fellow at American Reformer. His writings appear at aaronrenn.com.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.