If you’ve ever had a conversation with a teen about smoking marijuana, you know just how skilled they are in crafting arguments and hypothetical scenarios. Fifteen minutes in, and you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole that you’ll have a hard time getting out of—if you ever do.
That is why Jennifer Golick, PhD, LMFT prepared a presentation titled “Adolescent Cannabis Use: Implications and Treatment Recommendations” at the National Conference of Addiction Disorders this year. As the Clinical Director of Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services, she is an expert in teenage brain teasers on the topic of marijuana. She brought her unique experience in order to arm the rest of us with the right words to say in return.
Here are the top five arguments that she says teens commonly use to justify smoking marijuana—and what we can do to prove that they’re totally wrong.
1. “Marijuana is medicinal and good for you.”
Sure, there are lots of studies that show the medicinal qualities of cannabis but, let’s face it, that’s not why most people are wanting to toke up—especially not teens. In fact, HealthDay News reported in a 2015 article that “teens who have legal permission to use medical marijuana are 10 times more likely to say they’re addicted than those who get the drug illegally.” A 2014 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association also states that “evidence supporting [medical marijuana’s efficacy varies substantially and in general falls short of the standards required for approval of other drugs by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” It makes sense that teens who want to smoke more will seek medical marijuana cards just to ensure that they have a reliable, legal source of the drug. So, no, just because it’s natural, green and leafy does not make it another form of kale and is not healthy for consumption.
2. “The hippies did it.”
Before we even get into this discussion, it’s essential that people know that the stuff we’re talking about today is nothing like the ones people were smoking during the “Summer of Love.” To put this in perspective, the weed that Uncle Larry may have been smoking while playing the bongos in the 70s had at most an average THC concentration (the psychoactive substance) of 2-5%. In the last decade alone, the THC concentration has increased to 25-30%. Even more, the new way of smoking, which is vaping butane hash oil, has a THC concentration of 50-90%. With these numbers, it’s clear that today’s cannabis is a completely different animal than it once was, so comparing it to its older, more romanticized version is frankly no comparison at all.
3. “There’s no permanent damage to the brain.”
The teenage brain is perpetually under construction and extremely vulnerable. According to Golick, “There is more brain development in adolescence than in any other time in a person’s life except in utero.” During this time, CB1 receptors are also highly activated and fragile during adolescence and contributes to development of the growing brain. So when these CB1 receptors get disrupted and are flooded with exogenous cannabis, there is a structural, neurological, social, psychological and functional impact. To make it even more clear, Golick states, “What we’re finding particularly with cannabis, is that these regions of the brain that are controlling emotion and thought and memory and social interaction are finding structural changes that can and do persist into adulthood.”
4. “There’s no scientific proof.”
Despite what it may look like on the outside, teens really do care about their brains and the following revolutionary study should make them care about it even more. In a long-term prospective study, Duke University researchers followed 1,000 New Zealanders born in 1972 for 30 years and examined their IQ scores with tests involving memory, reasoning and processing speed. At the end of their study, the researchers found that those who began smoking cannabis regularly in early adolescence, roughly prior to the age of 16, had an average 8 point IQ drop. According to Susan Weiss, PhD, at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “That’s in the same realm as what you’d see with lead exposure. It’s not a trifle.”
5. “Marijuana is not physically addicting.”
Some teens may admit that marijuana is psychologically addicting, but they will scoff at the idea that it is physically addicting. However, what we’re seeing with high-potency THC and the extracts is that they do indeed lead to rapid dependency. Golick herself has personally dealt with cases where users have withdrawal symptoms that mimic that of opiate withdrawal, such as flu-like symptoms, agitation, anxiety, nausea and sweating. If that isn’t enough, the DSM-5 even has cannabis withdrawal syndrome as an actual diagnosable, billable diagnosis. And it doesn’t just stop there. “The interesting thing that we’re seeing now,” she says, “is more cases of psychosis, particularly with the extracts.”