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Drug Use

Cannabis: More Accessible and More Dangerous

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The status of cannabis in the United States is changing. More than 50% of states in the country have legalized its medical use, and others are striving to make non-medical use of the drug legal.

Acceptance of cannabis is growing nationwide, but the harm that surrounds the drug has not disappeared.

What is cannabis?

Cannabis is a drug known by many names. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these include the term marijuana, as well as other popular slang like pot or weed. Cannabis comes from the stems, leaves, seeds, and dried flowers of the cannabis plant.

The cannabis plant contains more than 500 chemicals, including over 100 compounds known as cannabinoids. Among these compounds, the CDC explains, are the intoxicant tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), which is considered non-impairing as it does not result in a “high.”

The consequences of consuming the drug

Cannabis can be consumed in different forms. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shares that many smoke the drug through hand-rolled cigarettes, pipes, or vaping. Smoking resins extracted from the marijuana plant through a practice called dabbing is increasing in popularity. Many also consume the drug through a brew in tea or mixed into foods known as edibles.

Consuming cannabis carries many risks. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) identifies some as:

  • Permanent IQ loss
  • Increased experiences of depression, anxiety, and psychotic episodes
  • Restricted athletic performance
  • Lower career achievement
  • Reduced life satisfaction, and more

SAMHSA links misuse of the drug during pregnancy to serious negative outcomes for babies’ health and development. Marijuana use has also been connected to impaired driving and the severe concerns of vehicle crashes and crash deaths.

How often does cannabis misuse occur?

Cannabis misuse is widespread in the U.S. SAMHSA names marijuana as the most commonly used illegal substance in the country. Their 2020 study showed close to 18% of people aged 12 or older surveyed had used cannabis in the past 12 months. This translates to over 49 million people.

According to the NIDA, youth are among those most vulnerable to cannabis misuse. Adolescents’ consumption of the drug has increased over recent years, particularly through vaping THC. In contrast, the number of students who see cannabis as risky has decreased.

The 2021 Monitoring the Future Survey showed notable declines in drug misuse among adolescents across all drug categories; yet the study still named marijuana as the most widely used illicit drug among students sampled throughout their 47 years of surveying. The study showed:

  • About seven percent of eighth graders, 17% of 10th graders, and 30% of 12th graders reported using cannabis in the past year.
  • Approximately four percent of eighth graders, 10% of 10th graders, and 20% of 12th graders reported using cannabis in the past month.

Any cannabis misuse can have negative effects on students’ lives. Taking the drug as an adolescent causes harm in the teen years and beyond.

Learn how teens perceive the harm of substances and why it matters.

The potential for addiction among adolescents

Legalization of medical or recreational adult-use cannabis in a growing number of states can seem to suggest the drug is safe to consume, but addiction remains a serious threat of cannabis misuse. What the findings show:

  • According to SAMHSA, one in six people who start using marijuana before the age of 18 may become addicted.
  • The CDC shares that approximately three in 10 of all people who use the drug develop Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD).
  • The NIDA states that people who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop CUD than adults.

The prevalence of CUD and addiction connects to the rising potency of the drug, according to the NIDA. The THC content found in marijuana has been on the rise in recent years. So have emergency department visits among those who consume the drug.

More potency can mean more severe results from consuming cannabis, particularly for adolescents. When youth misuse cannabis before their brains have fully developed, they may permanently alter how they build connections involved in learning, attention, and memory.

Explore the signs of cannabis addiction.

Can cannabis serve as medicine?

Much remains unknown about the safety of consuming cannabis for medical purposes.

As the NIDA shares, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved use of THC in certain prescription medications as part of varying treatment plans. Yet limited information is available on how the drug impacts people in the long-term. Those with health- or age-related concerns—like older adults and those with cancer or other diseases—could be more vulnerable to negative outcomes from consuming marijuana.

The CDC notes that medications containing THC or CBD are only available through a prescription from a licensed health care provider. The compounds can increase risks of heart or cardiovascular diseases and can make mental health concerns more severe. In this sense, while the health benefits of cannabis may be unknown, the health risks are clear.

Speaking with your teen about cannabis misuse

Talking with your teen about cannabis misuse matters. The guidance of parents and other caregivers has been shown to have a strong influence on the actions of adolescents. Wondering how to begin the conversation? Some steps suggested by SAMHSA are:

  • Check in frequently to see how your teen is doing
  • Be clear and consistent about your expectations regarding marijuana and other drug use
  • Let your teen know you care and are always there for them, among other actions

Parents and teachers alike can also encourage teens to learn more about the dangers of cannabis. Key resources to share with students include:

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