Marijuana Use and Teens

What’s the Problem?

Recent public discussions about medical marijuana and the public debate over its legal status is leading to a reduced perception of harm among young people. However, using marijuana can have harmful and long-lasting effects on a teen’s health and well-being. Consider these facts:

  • Teens may use marijuana because they believe it is not as harmful as tobacco, but they should know using marijuana can have a lasting impact on their brain. Research suggests that the effects on attention, memory, and learning can be long-term and even permanent in people who begin using marijuana regularly as teens. 1
  • Marijuana use has been linked to a range of mental health problems in teens such as depression or anxiety.2 Psychosis (loss of reality) has also been seen in teens at higher risk like those with a family history of marijuana use.3
  • Drugs, including marijuana, affect the way teens drive, which puts them, their passengers, and other drivers on the road at risk. Drugs can alter a teen’s perception, attention, balance, coordination, reaction time, and other skills they need to stay alert and safe.4-5
  • Research shows that about 1 in 6 teens who repeatedly use marijuana can become addicted,a which means they may make unsuccessful efforts to quit using marijuana or give up important activities with friends and family in favor of using marijuana.6-8

Who’s at Risk?

  • Marijuana remains the most used illicit substance among youth.9
  • 38% of high school students report having used marijuana in their life.10

Can It Be Prevented?

Various factors can contribute to teen marijuana use, from a family history of drug abuse to hanging around people who use marijuana.11 However, research has shown that parents do have a big influence on their teens even when it doesn’t appear that way. In fact, teens are more likely to use marijuana if their parents or friends use it, and less likely to use marijuana if their parents do not approve of it.11

The Bottom Line

Using marijuana can have harmful and long-lasting effects on a teen’s health and well-being. Unlike adults, the teen brain is actively developing and often will not stop until the mid-20s. Marijuana use during this period can have a detrimental impact, affecting a teen’s brain and their ability to progress and grow.12

Case Example

A mother watches her teenage son Kevin become more withdrawn over the course of several months. She begins to worry about his overall well-being as he isn’t acting like himself lately. He is no longer eating dinner with the family, he has a new group of friends, and his grades have gone down. Her attempts to ask him what’s wrong are unsuccessful. He won’t talk to her. She decides to call a local crisis center for teens. A professional counselor explains the warning signs of drug use for teens including,

  • sudden or extreme change in friends, eating habits, sleeping patterns, physical appearance, coordination, or school performance;
  • irresponsible behavior, poor judgment, general lack of interest; and
  • breaking the rules or withdrawing from the family.

The mother, fearful that Kevin may already be using marijuana, decides to have a conversation with him. During the conversation, Kevin admits to using marijuana. The mother lets him know that she’s disappointed and they talk about the consequences of using marijuana on Kevin’s health, including the impact it can have on his brain. Kevin and his mom also make an appointment for Kevin to see a local counselor so they can discuss strategies for him to stop using marijuana.

Related Links
  1. The term “addiction” is used to describe compulsive drug seeking despite negative consequences. However, we recognize that “addiction” is not considered a specific diagnosis in the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)—a diagnostic manual used by clinicians that contains descriptions and symptoms of all mental disorders classified by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Rather the DSM-5 uses the term substance use disorder. However, throughout this document addiction is used synonymously with having a substance use disorder for ease of language recognition and understanding.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are marijuana’s long-term effects on the brain? 2016 [cited April 3, 2017]; Available from:
  2. Copeland, J., S. Rooke, and W. Swift, Changes in cannabis use among young people: impact on mental health. Curr Opin Psychiatry, 2013. 26(4): p. 325-9.
  3. Arseneault, L., et al., Cannabis use in adolescence and risk for adult psychosis: longitudinal prospective study. BMJ, 2002. 325(7374): p. 1212-3.
  4. Bondallaz, P., et al., Cannabis and its effects on driving skills. Forensic Sci Int, 2016. 268: p.92-102.
  5. Hartman, R.L. and M.A. Huestis, Cannabis effects on driving skills. Clin Chem, 2013. 59(3): p. 478-92.
  6. Lopez-Quintero, C., et al., Probability and predictors of transition from first use to dependence on nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine: results of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). Drug Alcohol Depend, 2011. 115(1-2): p. 120-30.
  7. Hall, W. and L. Degenhardt, Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. Lancet, 2009. 374(9698): p. 1383-91.
  8. Budney, A.J., J.D. Sargent, and D.C. Lee, Vaping cannabis (marijuana): parallel concerns to e-cigs? Addiction, 2015. 110(11): p. 1699-704.
  9. Johnston L, O’Malley P, Miech R, Bachman J, Schulenberg J. Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use: 1975-2015: Overview: Key Findings on Adolescent Drug Use. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan; 2015.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. 2016 [cited April 3, 2017]; Available from:
  11. Tang, Z. and R.G. Orwin, Marijuana initiation among American youth and its risks as dynamic processes: prospective findings from a national longitudinal study. Subst Use Misuse, 2009. 44(2): p. 195-211.
  12. Meier, M.H., et al., Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2012. 109(40): p. E2657-64.
  13. Filbey, F.M., et al., Long-term effects of marijuana use on the brain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2014. 111(47): p. 16913-8.
Page last reviewed: October 6, 2017