Why Do Teens Use Marijuana?

Teen Couple Smoking Marijuana
Peer Influence Is a Key Factor for Teens. © Getty Images

It would be nice if there was one clear reason that children and young teenagers begin using marijuana, but there are actually many reasons teens choose to begin smoking weed.

If there was one simple reason you could focus your efforts toward addressing that issue and help protect your child from early marijuana use, which is important due to the harm that it can do a child's brain that is still developing.

Research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that childhood marijuana use can affect:

  • Learning ability, attention, and memory
  • Coordination and balance
  • Judgment and decision-making

Unfortunately, teens report that they began using marijuana for a wide variety of reasons. If you want to keep your children from smoking weed at an early age, you will have to be diligent in several areas of influences in their lives.

And, in today's social and political climate of a growing pro-legalization trend, you will have your work cut out for you.

The Influence of Other People

Probably the most common reason that youngsters in their early teens begin initial marijuana use is the influence of others in their lives, and this begins at home and in their neighborhoods.

If they have parents, grandparents, older siblings, or even aunts and uncles who smoke marijuana, research suggest that children are much more likely to begin using marijuana than those with no family involvement with the drug.

Even if no one in the family actually uses marijuana, but expresses approval of its use, there is research that shows teens will tend to be at greater risk for initiating first-time marijuana use.

In one survey, researchers found that young people who reported that their parents would "not be very" upset if they smoked marijuana were 9.6 times more likely to use marijuana than those with parents who would be "very" upset.

If they live in a neighborhood where they see drug activity going on, teens are less likely to express disapproval of drug use and become more likely to try drugs themselves.

Peer Pressure to Use Drugs

Following the influence of family members, peer pressure is one of the main reasons that young children start smoking marijuana. If they have friends who are using marijuana, they are more likely to try it themselves.

Even if their friends do not smoke marijuana, but do not disapprove of its use, teens are more likely to give it a try.

A Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMSHA) survey revealed that children 12 to 17 with friends who use marijuana are 39 times more likely to use marijuana. Those in that same age group were 16 times more likely to smoke weed if they believed their friends would "not be very upset" if they did.

If teens have close friends who use marijuana, they have a tendency to adopt the attitude that "everyone is doing it" and it's part of the normal teenage experience, although research shows that the majority of teens make it all the way through high school without ever using marijuana.

If their close friends are using alcohol and drugs, teens will do it to "fit in" or to be "cool." Therefore, it is important that parents know your children's friends and what they are into.

Movies, Media, and Music

Another strong influence on teens are the media they watch, read or listen to. For example, teens who watch R-rated movies—in which the use of drugs and alcohol is often portrayed as OK—are 6 times more likely to smoke marijuana than teens who do not watch those movies.

Drug and alcohol use is often promoted in the magazines that teens read, the music they download, and the songs they listen to on the radio. Those influences can be significant for young children. There is a reason that young people from age 12 to 20 see almost as many alcohol advertisements as adults.

Self-Medicating and Escape

Many teens turn to marijuana in an effort to self-medicate, to make themselves feel better. They use marijuana to try to cope with depression, anxiety and anger.

Teens will also begin using weed as an escape. Boredom is one of the main reasons some teens report that they use marijuana.

Children who have been physically or sexually abused are at greater risk than other teens for using marijuana and other drugs. They turn to drugs to escape the fear and pain of abuse.

Other reasons teens will initiate marijuana use can include:

  • Rebellion
  • Instant gratification
  • Lack of confidence

Misinformation

Some youngsters begin using marijuana because they have not be informed of the harm it can do to them while their brains and minds are still not fully developed. Or more often, they make a decision to begin using based on misinformation.

As Dr. Neil I. Bernstein wrote in his book "How to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do if You Can’t,": "Nearly every teenager has friends who claim to be experts on various recreational substances, and they’re happy to assure her that the risks are minimal."

The marijuana legalization movement has played a role in sending the wrong message to young people. Teens today might believe "if it's medicine, it must be safe" or "if it's legal, it must be OK."

But, nowhere that marijuana has been made legal for medical or recreational use has it been made legal for anyone under that age of 21. Not even the most adamant legalization advocates propose making it legal for children to use.

If you are a parent who wants to protect your children from the dangers associated with early marijuana use, educate them with the facts so that they can make an informed decision about the risks.

Sources:

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. "How Does Marijuana Affect the Brain?" Drug Facts June 2016

Simons-Morton, B. et al. "Recent Findings on Peer Group Influences on Adolescent Substance Use." The Journal of Primary Prevention March 2012

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