During the 2016 election cycle, residents in several areas of the United States voted in favor of recreational and medicinal marijuana use within their states. Others have also "decriminalized" personal use of marijuana.
While these developments predominantly affect the legality of marijuana use by adults only, they contribute a lot of misunderstanding about the actual emotional and physical risks that marijuana poses for young people. Confusion leads to the (inaccurate) belief that if it's "legal" or "medical," it must not be harmful.
Sound familiar? Alcohol went through the same misconceptions (e.g., "If it's not against the law, it must be safe"), yet now most recognize that teen and adolescent alcohol use presents serious health risks. That's why there is a legal age restriction for the sale, possession and use of alcohol, and why most states allow parents who serve underage persons in their home to be held both civilly and criminally responsible.
Research has clearly shown that early use of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs greatly increases the risk of addiction and a variety of other developmental problems for young people.
Yet, as marijuana laws change for adults in the U.S. population, teens tend to perceive less and less risk in recreational marijuana use by people their own age. As reported by The Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America,
Media coverage has led to a number of misconceptions about medical marijuana and has largely ignored two critical facts: 1) smoked marijuana is not a 'medicine'; and 2) the more misinformation that gets to the public stating that marijuana is medicine, the more youth will view it as harmless and the more likely they will be to use it.
Indeed, it has been shown that there is a direct connection between the legal, medical use of marijuana in U.S. states by adults and the illegal, recreational use of marijuana in U.S. states by children ages 12 to 17.
There are legitimate medical uses for some of the chemical components of the marijuana plant for persons with chronic and/or terminal illness. Children are receiving an increasingly mixed message about this substance, and it's a message we can help clarify with them through healthy communication.
Don't be confused about the risks adolescents face from marijuana use:
A significant part of our continuing effort to keep kids healthy must include our ability to consistently reach them with accurate information. Social norms research has shown that teenagers greatly overestimate the amount and frequency of alcohol and other drug use by peers. This overestimation is even greater when young children are asked to estimate the amount of use by older students.
But if this misperception is corrected, students of all ages are less likely to engage in substance use and other risk-taking behavior. Such positive corrections include:
Confront the myths. The fact remains that most U.S. teens do not use marijuana. Don't let the hype distract from the fact that youth who use marijuana are in the minority among their peers, and their use comes with real risks.