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The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana has on Adolescents

The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana has on Adolescents

Fabiola Chavez
RWS 1302: Rhetoric and Composition 2
University of Texas at El Paso
The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana has on Adolescents


Marijuana has been a topic that has been discussed recently, especially since the

legalization in some parts of the world. Whether you are for it or against we all have our own

thoughts and beliefs on the topic. One thing that we also need to take into considerations is

whether we are talking about legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes or recreational use. Of

course there are the pros and cons for either one but what ramifications would legalized

recreational marijuana have on adolescents? The future leaders of our country are the ones that

would either benefit or live with the effects of marijuana. In a 2018 article by The Pros and, Should Medical Marijuana be Legal? they stated that, “More than half of US adults,

over 128 million people, have tried marijuana, despite it being an illegal drug under federal law.

Nearly 600,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession annually – more than one

person per minute” (, 2018). That is something to considers if it is affecting adults

how is it affecting our youth.

Keywords: Marijuana, adolescents, consequences, legalizing

The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana has on Adolescents


When it comes to legalizing marijuana we all have an opinion but have you ever stopped

to wonder how this can have an impact with adolescents? The number of states that have

legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use has had an adverse effect among

adolescents. California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. Colorado and

Washington were the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Working as a

substance use counselor, the effects of marijuana in adolescents and their families has been seen;

the effects take shape in breaking the relationship with the adolescents and their family. Another

effect witnessed is the devastation it causes to their future options caused by legal ramifications.

Based upon professional experiences, it has been observed how marijuana use has

affected teens in developing healthy relationships with peers and family and is a great concern.

There are many life skills that teenagers learn to become productive members of society and it is

sad to see that due to their marijuana use they are beginning adulthood at a disadvantage.

With all the focus on legalizing marijuana a silver lining has emerged. New research can be

conducted in regards to the effects of marijuana. A researcher was quoted on the Times magazine

article in 2015 (Barcott) as saying, "We can do studies on cocaine and morphine without a

problem, because they are Schedule II," explains Fair Vassoler, a researcher at Tufts University

who has replicated Hurd's rat experiment with synthetic pot, "but marijuana is Schedule I." Each

drug falls in a Schedule category and there are five categories in total. Schedule I drugs are

substances, or chemicals with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse

(US Drug Enforcement Agency, 2018). Marijuana became a Schedule I drug on August 14, 1970

and has stayed there until now (H.R. 18583, 1970). Due to this research has been limited because

of the funding it takes to research a drug. The government in 2015 began a 10-year, $300 million
The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana has on Adolescents

study with thousands of adolescents to track the harm that marijuana, alcohol and other drugs do

to the developing brain (Barcott, 2015). High-tech imaging will allow researchers for the first

time to map the effects of marijuana on the brain as humans age.

In this research paper the negative effects of marijuana use among adolescents in the

United States will be discussed. The following questions will be addressed:

1) What are some physiological consequences of adolescents’ using marijuana?

2) What defines adolescent marijuana consumption as problematic?

3) Is there a difference with the marijuana that teens are using now compared to marijuana

from 15 years ago?

Even though there are different views on marijuana, whether it is medicinal or recreational,

there is one thing that researchers and scientists, as well as doctors, agree on and that is

marijuana affects the brain development if it is used at an early age when the brain is still

developing, which can be up until the age of 24.

What are some physiological consequences of adolescents’ using marijuana?

How does the brain work and how can marijuana affect the development of it? As we know

the brain is divided into two hemispheres. Within the hemisphere there are four lobes. The

frontal lobes control thinking, planning, organizing, problem solving, short-term memory and

movement. The parietal lobes interpret sensory information, such as taste, temperature and touch.

The occipital lobes process images from your eyes and link that information with images stored

in memory. The temporal lobes process information from your senses of smell, taste and sound.

They also play a role in memory storage (NIDA Blog Team, 2017). Dopamine is a

neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers and also helps regulate

movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action
The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana has on Adolescents

to move toward them. The brain is wired to learn from experiences and natural release of

dopamine (NIDA, 2016). For example, there is a difference when you study all week for an

exam compared to a cram session. Your brain retains the information and learns from it better,

when repeated, making it easier for you to remember things and have less of a hard time to pass

the exam when more time is utilized towards retaining the information. A person is less likely to

recall as much while taking the exam if the information is gone over quickly.

When using a drug like marijuana it can overstimulate the brain. The adolescent brain is

not mature and will not stop developing until the age of 24 (Barcott, 2015); this is why the brain

begins to develop differently when marijuana is consumed. Researchers know the body

produces endocannabinoids, which activate cannabinoid receptors in the brain. One plant

produces a similar compound that hits those same receptors: marijuana. Marijuana-derived

cannabinoids, like THC and cannabidiol (CBD), mimic endocannabinoids, which impact feelings

of hunger and pleasure (NIDA, 2016).

Figure 1. The effects of Marijuana on the teenage brain. From Inspirations for Youth and Families.
The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana has on Adolescents

Most of the cannabinoid receptors are found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure,

memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. The

hippocampus plays a critical role in certain types of learning (NIDA, 2016). As you can see in

Figure 1, marijuana affects the normal functioning of the brain that can lead to problems

studying, learning new things, and recalling events. Since marijuana affects areas of the frontal

cortex involved in decision making, using it can make you more likely to engage in risky

behavior, such as unprotected sex or getting in a car with someone who’s been drinking or high

on marijuana. Marijuana also affects the cerebellum, the area of our brain that controls balance

and coordination. At times of influence, an adolescent has impaired experiences in sports or

while driving. These are examples of problem solving or decision making that is shown in Figure

1 that can be affected (Effects of Marijuana, 2016).

What defines adolescent marijuana consumption as problematic?

One thing that has been brought up regarding how marijuana affects teenagers is their

ability to form relationships. This includes stronger relationships with their family, making new

friends, as well as romantic relationships; these relationships have a greater tendency to struggle

(NIDA, 2016).

Observations from Aliviane provided insight that when teenagers gather to smoke they

are not developing their communications skills in very productive manners. They do not usually

hold long conversations about anything that does not concern smoking. For example, they do

not discuss how to get a person of the opposite sex to go out with them; they do not initiate small

talk about weather, sports, issues with their family, or ask advice about their problems or

homework. Because of this they have a hard time making friends with people that do not use

drugs, not finding something in common. Clients would discuss almost always the same topics of
The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana has on Adolescents

conversation, to include: how much they bought the drug for, the quality, how much they can

consume, or who can last longer.

If adolescents do not develop socially, including basic skills of communication or

techniques about dealing with different people, this can affect them in the future with any type of

social relationships, authority and employment. Most of these things require teamwork,

communication, and a way to deal with each person’s personality, quirks and uniqueness.

Cannabis use disorder is real and it does exist. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of

Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5) is used by clinicians and psychiatrists to diagnose psychiatric

illnesses. In 2013, the most recent version known as the DSM-5 was released. The DSM is

published by the American Psychiatric Association and covers all categories of mental health

disorders for both adults and children. For youth to receive a diagnosis regarding substance use a

few things have to happen. For one, the youth has to be diagnosed by a qualified professional,

which can include a LCDC (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor), LCDC-CI (counselor

Intern) or LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) or LPC-I (intern) to name a few. The

professional then screens the youth based on a screening tool approved by the agency and

overseeing state. The youth needs to have a pattern of at least two of the following that occur

within the past 12 months. They are:

1) Cannabis is taken in a larger amount or over a longer period of time than intended,

2) Repeated failed efforts to stop or reduce the amount of cannabis that is used,

3) A majority of the person’s time is occupied acquiring, using, or recovering from the

effects of cannabis,

4) Cravings or desires to use cannabis,

The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana has on Adolescents

5) Continued use of cannabis despite consequences from its use, such as criminal charges,

ultimatums of abandonment from spouse/partner/friends, and poor productivity,

6) Other important activities in life, such as work, school, hygiene, and responsibility to

family and friends are superseded by the desire to use cannabis,

7) Important social, occupational or recreational activities are given up or reduced due to

cannabis use,

8) Cannabis is used in situations that are potentially dangerous, such as operating a motor


9) Use of cannabis continues despite awareness of physical or psychological problems

attributed to use,

10) Tolerance,

11) Withdrawal, defined as the typical withdrawal syndrome associated with cannabis, or

cannabis or a similar substance is used to prevent withdrawal symptoms,

Depending on the number of symptoms that the professional has seen in the youth, this will help

to measure the severity of the disorder. The presence of two to three symptoms means the

disorder would be cannabis use disorder- mild. Four to five symptoms are considered moderate,

while six or more symptoms identified is severe (DSM-5, 2013). As you can see, there are a

number of different situations that can cause a youth to receive this diagnosis. It includes their

performance at school, or lack thereof, as well as legal consequences that might introduce the

youth into the legal system. For example, juvenile probation. Having someone in the legal

system can take a toll not only on the individual but their family and friends.

During a clinical observation from 2015 to 2018 at Aliviane, in El Paso, Texas, a

treatment center for adolescents with substance use problems, approximately 80 percent of the
The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana has on Adolescents

adolescent clientele had legal issues. These clients would participate in high risk situations that

included but were not limited to beer runs, running away from guardians, assault, trespassing,

underage driving, and/or driving in a vehicle while under the influence. Due to adolescents’

participation in these illegal activities they would incur legal consequences, as well as for their

families. These consequences include the emotional, financial and psychological well-being of

both the adolescent and their family members.

Is there a difference with the marijuana that teens are using now compared to

marijuana from 15 years ago?

The federal government says that levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana are

at the highest-ever recorded amounts, and that the potency may be contributing to increasing

numbers of teenagers seeking treatment for dependence (NIDA Blog Team, 2017). The

University of Mississippi Potency Monitoring Project tests marijuana primarily taken during law

enforcement seizures. The project is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2017). A

normal THC level is 1%-5%, but the average potency from the latest quarterly report was 9.6%

for marijuana and 24% for hashish. The report is based on 1,248 marijuana samples and 33

hashish samples. The highest recorded potency was 37% for marijuana and 66% for hashish.

"The increases in marijuana potency are of concern since they increase the likelihood of acute

toxicity, including mental impairment," Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA director, said in a statement.

The federal Office of National Drug Control Policy said that increasing potency may be linked to

the increase in treatment admissions for marijuana abuse from 6% in 1992 to 16% in 2006

(Barcott, 2015). This can have serious effects for teenagers that may be experimenting or

teenagers that have been using for a longer period of time.

The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana has on Adolescents

For a new user or experimental user, this may mean exposure to higher concentrations of

THC, with a greater chance of an adverse or unpredictable reaction. In the clinical observations

that was done at Aliviane, first time users or experimental users started using marijuana when

they were offered marijuana in an edible form. Some examples of edible forms include but are

not limited to: gummies, lollipops, brownies or dessert. When it is in edible form it is at times

impossible to gauge the quantity used to make them as the “dealers” do not follow a standard

Figure 2. The Inexact Science of Edibles. From


recipe. Increases in potency may account for the rise in emergency department visits involving

marijuana use (NIDA Blog Team, 2017). Due to the unreliable amount or level of THC that it

may contain, states that have legalized marijuana have had to inform the public of THC level as

seen on the image below. For experienced users, it may mean a greater risk for addiction if they

are expose themselves to high doses on a regular basis. Since the legalization in Colorado, one
The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana has on Adolescents

certified lab there has reported that much of the marijuana they have studied and tested has been

found to be laced with heavy metals, pesticides, fungus and bacteria (Handwerk, 2015).

The thing to consider with these statistics and information is that not all teenagers are

getting their marijuana from dispensaries for different reasons. The main reason would be that it

is still considered illegal. There is an age requirement that dispensaries are allowed to sell to (US

DEA, 2018). For instance, a 15-year-old cannot go into a dispensary much less buy some. And

it is fair to say that these adolescents are getting their marijuana from the street. This is the case

for adolescents that are living in states where marijuana is still considered illegal for recreational

use. The grower has no restrictions or rules that they need to follow. They may be using

pesticides that have been banned for use of lethal or toxic ingredients. The growers are more

interested in getting cheap pesticides, soil or what is required to grow marijuana than the effects

that the user will get for consuming these products in the long run. The conditions that this

marijuana are grown or handled are often not in the best sanitary practices.


In conclusion in this research we discussed the consequences of marijuana on an

adolescent. A statistic done by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

(SAMHSA) in January 8, 2018 is that the percentage of 12-17 year olds using marijuana is

higher in every legal marijuana state than the national average (, 2018). Whether we

want to admit or not, now adolescents experiment with different drugs with marijuana being on

the top. It is not necessary for research to tell us that teenagers are impulsive and sometimes get

carried away by peer pressure but what is needed is to be reminded is to create strong bonds with

our children. We are educating our future leaders. Scientists and researchers can all agree that

marijuana will affect the brain of an adolescent due to it still being developed and formed. To
The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana has on Adolescents

see it in a different perspective when a woman is pregnant it is strongly advised not to consume

alcohol or drugs because it will harm the development of the fetus or baby. The brain in turn is

still growing and developing so if an adolescent starts introducing drugs or alcohol while it is

still being developed the brain will not grow to its full potential. Another issue we discussed

were the repercussions that an adolescent will acquire by consuming marijuana, which will

influence what they think about themselves and how the world views potential drug users. This

also includes facing the stigma associated with potential employers looking for employees who

do not use marijuana.

The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana has on Adolescents


Barcott, Bruce, & Scherer, Michael. (2015). The Great Pot Experiment. Time, 185(19), 38-45.

Retrieved from


Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, H.R. 18583, 91 Cong. (1970).

Effects of Marijuana on the Teenage Brain, The. (2016). [Figure 1 brain sections effected

by THC graphic poster]. Inspirations for Youths and Families. Retrieved from


Handwerk, Brian. (2015). Modern Marijuana is Often Laced with Heavy Metals and Fungus, Retrieved from



Inexact Science of Edibles, The. (2016). [Figure 2 edibles THC levels reference table, slide 5/5].

Tests Show THC Content in Marijuana Edibles is Inconsistent, The Denver Post.

Retrieved from


National Institute on Drug Abuse, (2016). Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know, National

Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from


National Institute on Drug Abuse Blog Team, The. (2017, May). Marijuana, National Institute on

Drug Abuse. Retrieved from

The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana has on Adolescents, (2018). Should Recreational Marijuana Be Legal?, Retrieved from

United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (2018). Drug Schedules. Retrieved from