The Dangers of Marijuana: What the Legalization Means for Our Youth

06 Jan The Dangers of Marijuana: What the Legalization Means for Our Youth

The Dangers of Marijuana: What the Legalization Means for Our Youthshutterstock_201143936

By: Susan Sirota, MD

As you have probably heard, recreational marijuana sales began on January 1, 2020 in Illinois. Many of us live in towns that have opted in, allowing the sale of marijuana to adults 21 years and older. So what does this mean for our children and teens?

The AAP policy statement on marijuana makes clear that increasing access to adults, even with restrictions, increases youth access and use.

Marijuana is not the same drug it was in the past:

  • THC, the psychoactive component, is no longer 2-4% as it was in the 80s and 90s. Today, most teens go straight to vaping THC where the concentrations of THC are often over 90%. Average potency of marijuana flower or buds sold in dispensaries are just under 20% while the average for concentrates is about 60%.
  • For reference, the Dutch convened a panel of medical experts and determined that marijuana with a concentration of THC over 15% is a hard drug.


Marijuana is addictive and the addictive potential is high:

  • One in six teen users will become addicted, even when use is casual. 50% of daily users become addicted.Although the physical symptoms are different, this places the addictive potential of marijuana’s current strains on par with cocaine and heroin. 90% of addiction begins in the teen years.


Marijuana and driving do not mix:

  • There is no field test that can be used to assess for driving under the influence. With the perception of harm from marijuana at the lowest level in 4 decades, we are seeing teen use in general at high levels. Most teens perceive driving under the influence as safe.
  • In Colorado, there is a fatal crash involving THC every three days and traffic deaths where the driver tested positive for THC increased 109% following legalization.


Beyond the vaping related illness and associated deaths from vaping THC, there are additional, significant health risks:

  • Young children can be seriously poisoned by consuming marijuana edibles that are not securely stored in the home. Some cases require ICU admissions with intubation.
  • Marijuana is not safe in pregnancy or breastfeeding.
  • Teen use has been associated with impaired memory and concentration as well as serious mental health consequences including anxiety, depression, suicide, and psychosis.

With the new year comes new habits. Start by having a conversation with your kids about peer pressure, addiction, and the dangers of marijuana.

Additional resources:

Stand Strong Coalition for Marijuana Toolkit

National Institute on Drug Abuse- Marijuana

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

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