Talking to Your Kids—Communicating the Risks


Why do young people use marijuana? Children and teens start using marijuana for many reasons. Curiosity and the desire to fit into a social group are common ones. Some have a network of friends who use drugs and urge them to do the same (peer pressure). Those who have already begun to smoke cigarettes and/or use alcohol are at heightened risk for marijuana use as well. And children and teens who have untreated mental disorders (e.g., ADHD, conduct disorder, anxiety) or who were physically or sexually abused are at heightened risk of using marijuana and other drugs at an early age.

Marijuana leaf Fact: Marijuana is the most frequently used illegal drug in the United States.

For some, drug use begins as a means of coping—to deal with anxiety, anger, depression, boredom, and so forth. But in fact, being high can be a way of simply avoiding the problems and challenges of growing up. Research also suggests that family members' use of alcohol and drugs plays a strong role in whether children/teens start using drugs—making parents, grandparents, and older brothers and sisters models for children to follow.

So indeed, all aspects of a teen's environment—home, school, neighborhood—can help determine whether they will try drugs.

How can I prevent my child from using marijuana? There is no magic bullet for preventing teen drug use. But research indicates that parents have a big influence on their teens, even when it doesn't show! So talk openly with your children and stay actively engaged in their lives. To help you get started, below are some brief summaries of marijuana research findings that you can share with your kids to help them sort out fact from myth, and to make the best decisions they can based on the current evidence. These were chosen because they reflect the questions and comments that we receive from teens every day on our teen Web site and blog—what teens care about. Following this brief summary of research highlights, FAQs and additional resources are provided to equip you with even more information.


Marijuana is addictive. Repeated marijuana use can lead to addiction—which means that people often cannot stop when they want to, even though it undermines many aspects of their lives. Marijuana is estimated to produce addiction in approximately 9 percent, or roughly 1 in 11, of those who use it at least once. This rate increases to about 1 in 6, or 16 percent, for users who start in their teens, and 25-50 percent among daily users. Moreover, 4.3 million of the more than 7 million people who abused or were addicted to any illicit drug in 2009 were dependent on marijuana. And among youth receiving substance abuse treatment, marijuana accounts for the largest percentage of admissions: 63 percent among those 12-14, and 69 percent among those 15-17.

Marijuana is UNSAFE if you are behind the wheel. Marijuana compromises judgment and affects many other skills required for safe driving: alertness, concentration, coordination, and reaction time. Marijuana use makes it difficult to judge distances and react to signals and sounds on the road. Marijuana is the most commonly identified illicit drug in fatal accidents (~14 percent of drivers), sometimes in combination with alcohol or other drugs. In fact, even small amounts of alcohol, when combined with marijuana use, can be very dangerous—more so than either one alone.

Marijuana is associated with school failure. Marijuana's negative effects on attention, motivation, memory, and learning can last for days and sometimes weeks after its immediate effects wear off—especially in chronic users. Someone who smokes marijuana daily may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level most or all of the time. Compared with their nonsmoking peers, students who smoke marijuana tend to get lower grades and are more likely to drop out of high school. Long-term marijuana users report decreased overall life satisfaction, including diminished mental and physical health, memory and relationship problems, lower salaries, and less career success.

High doses of marijuana can cause psychosis or panic during intoxication. Although scientists do not yet know whether the use of marijuana causes chronic mental illness, high doses can induce an acute psychosis (disturbed perceptions and thoughts, including paranoia) and/or panic attacks. In people who already have schizophrenia, marijuana use can worsen psychotic symptoms, and evidence to date suggests a link between early marijuana use and an increased risk of psychosis among those with a preexisting vulnerability for the disease.

This page was last updated March 2011