Youth Culture Window

Teens and Weed

Dynamic ImageHistorically speaking, teens have been smoking weed since our species wore nothing but a loin cloth. Today’s younger generation is proudly continuing the ancient practice, but do they know what it’s costing them?

And do you know where they’re getting it?

A (Growing) Part of the Culture
Yes, we recently wrote about teens and marijuana – at least, sort of – but given that new information is released on a regular basis, it probably doesn’t hurt to revisit the conversation again. For example, researchers from the University of Michigan asked several thousand high school seniors about their marijuana use and discovered that kids who owned a legitimate medical marijuana card were 10 times more likely to admit addiction woes than kids without them. (Does that mean that one of the best ways to develop an addiction to weed is going to see a doctor…instead of the guy in a back alley?) Adding to the problem are teens who use medical marijuana that belongs to someone else; these teens were the most vulnerable to related risks such as alcohol use and prescription pill abuse.

Looking at slightly older students, those in college, researchers (again from the University of Michigan) discovered that this group of young people are now smoking weed at a higher rate than at any time during the past 35 years. According to their studies, 5.9% of college kids report “daily or near-daily” use of pot. That translates to 1-17 college students who smoke weed at least 20 times per month. The number of college students who admitted to smoking pot at least once in the past 30 days also rose (from 17% to 21%). Lloyd Johnston, the lead investigator said, “Young adults are seeing marijuana as less dangerous.” (Could this mindset be partly attributable to programming like this year’s MTV Video Music Awards where host Miley Cyrus made multiple pro-marijuana jokes and comments…between anti-tobacco commercials, of course?)

Regardless, that belief is shared by much of the United States’ adult population. When Pew Research conducted a poll in early 2015, they found that 53% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana and 69% believe alcohol to be more of a health risk than weed.

But is that true?

More Than the Munchies
It’s long been suspected that marijuana is a “gateway drug” to harder, more dangerous controlled substances. Researchers at NYU wanted to know why that tended to be the case, so they conducted a study of why high school seniors smoked pot and if/how/why they interacted with other drugs, for example, cocaine, heroin, LSD, and others. What they found was surprisingly simple: 31% of teens claimed “boredom” was the biggest reason for using marijuana. (These same teenagers were also more likely to use cocaine or hallucinogens for the same exact reason.) The only good news from the study found that teens who smoked weed to “experiment” were the least likely to use harder drugs. Perhaps that makes sense; if they weren’t sure about pot in the first place, why try something harder?

But the “possibility” of marijuana leading to other controlled substances is just one byproduct of the practice. Research conducted by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) has uncovered even more potentially-hazardous effects marijuana can have on teens and their still-developing brains. The study found that “early” and “frequent” pot use could irreversibly hinder a teenager’s educational, occupational and social development. In addition to its addictive qualities, weed was also linked to mental illness and cognitive/motor function impairment.

The high comes with high prices….

Weeding Out the Weed
Parents and youth workers have a more difficult job in steering young people away from marijuana-related habits and consequences these days. In addition to all the ongoing complexities of this issue, we now make teens wade through a growing number of advertisements for medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. But concerned adults are still the best anti-drug for guiding teenagers through the pitfalls of marijuana use.

For starters, talk often…and honestly. We can’t expect “one talk” to be sufficient for our teens when they are bombarded on a weekly basis. Make sure your voice is a consistent one they hear on this subject. You don’t have to lecture; just ask questions and genuinely listen.


  • Ask them about the temptations they face at school.
  • Ask them about their friends and their habits.
  • Ask them what you can do to help.

But be honest, as well. If you’ve got a personal story that they could glean from, consider sharing it with them…even if it incorporates a failure from your past.

And don’t forget to sprinkle in a little empathy. Try and remember what it was like to face temptation – this one or any other – under the dense fog of peer pressure that clouds sound judgment. If your teenager truly believes that you’re trying to understand what it’s like to be a teenager facing these decisions, your efforts will go a long way toward being heard. These kinds of conversations let your teenager know they’re not walking alone.

In short, we must be proactive. Marijuana – and its consequences – isn’t anything new. We don’t need to let it take us by surprise when we can so easily get out ahead of the curve and prevent pain.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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