At What Age Do Children Generally Start Smoking Pot?

Teen Girl With Joint
Early-Age Marijuana Use Is Harmful. © Getty Images

There are surveys that indicate that the average age that children begin to smoke marijuana is age 16. But, that is the "average" age. That means there are a lot of children out there who begin long before age 16.

The latest Monitoring the Future figures show that in 2014, an estimated 15.6% of 8th graders had smoked marijuana or hashish at least once in their lifetimes, while 11.7% had smoked in the past year, and 6.5% had smoked in the past month.

One Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey of people who were admitted for drug and alcohol treatment found that 14% began using drugs before age 13, in their preteen years.

Use More Than Doubles By 10th Grade

By the time they reach the 10th grade, the number of lifetime smokers goes to 33.7%, while past year smokers rise to 27.3% and past month smokers include 16.6%

Therefore, between the 8th grade and the 10th grade, the number of children in your child's school who are smoking pot more than doubles.

The Influence of Others

That is significant because the main reason that teens begin to smoke marijuana is because of the influence of other people around them. Teens who have siblings or friends who do drugs are much more likely to try them themselves than adolescents who do not have drug-using friends.

But, the influence that others have on teen substance abuse is not limited to their peers in school.

Teens who have parents who drink, smoke cigarettes or smoke marijuana are also more likely to try it themselves.

Availability Is a Key Factor

Availability is also a factor in whether or not kids begin smoking marijuana at a early age. Children who live in neighborhoods where drugs are sold openly, or who go to schools where they have peers who sell drugs are significantly more likely to begin smoking weed at an early age.

The same study found that if teens merely perceive that their peers approve of drug use they will be more likely to use drugs themselves at an early age, because that perception tends to "normalize" illicit drug use.

Reasons Why Kids Use Drugs

There are other reasons that children begin early use of marijuana. In his book "Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do if You Can’t," Dr. Neil I. Bernstein lists these reasons why kids try drugs and alcohol:

  • Other people
  • Popular media
  • Escape and self-medication
  • Boredom
  • Rebellion
  • Instant gratification
  • Lack of confidence
  • Misinformation

Early-Onset Drug Use Has Consequences

Experts agree - even some marijuana legalization proponents - that the later teens begin using marijuana the better, because their brains are still developing up until about age 25. The earlier kids begin to smoke pot the more likely they are to experience problems.

A Duke University study found that children who smoke marijuana at least weekly before age 18 displayed lasting harm to their intelligence, attention, and memory compared with those who began using marijuana after age 18.

The Duke study also found that quitting marijuana use later did not reverse the cognitive damaged caused by regular marijuana use before age 18.

Sources:

Duke University. "Adolescent Pot Use Leaves Lasting Mental Deficits." Duke Today August 2012

Duncan, DT et al. "Perceived neighborhood illicit drug selling, peer illicit drug disapproval and illicit drug use among U.S. high school seniors." Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy September 2014.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs." Trends & Statistics 2014

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. "Top 8 Reasons why Teens Try Alcohol and Drugs." Resources Accessed June 2015

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