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Marijuana and Young People: A Growing Problem

June 27, 2023

Alan Bozman, PhD

Director of Clinical Services

Many Baby Boomers, Generation X and even Millennials grew up with the notion that cannabis is a relatively harmless substance. When some parents discover their child is experimenting with marijuana, they may put consequences in place but their thoughts may slip to “I smoked pot when I was younger, and I am alright.” After all, marijuana is a natural substance, now legal in many states, and even used for medicinal purposes which somehow makes it seem safer and less threatening.

FACT: The marijuana young people are using today is much different from marijuana of the past.

THC Potency Over The Years

Ten to fifteen years ago marijuana in leaf form typically contained about 4% THC. Today it ranges between 15% and 25% or higher. Other forms of consumption, edibles, wax, oils and vapes range between 45% and 95% THC.1

With higher potencies and quicker methods of ingestion, THC is transmitted into the blood stream at higher concentrations. “The high” is caused once THC crosses the blood-brain barrier, which can have a significant impact on the developing brain. THC is a psychoactive substance and research has shown that people who have taken large doses of marijuana may experience hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of the sense of personal identity.

Effects of THC on the Brain

Studies show that the brain continues to develop until around 25 years old and that the brains of teens and young adults are much more susceptible to the harmful and potentially lasting negative impacts caused by significant marijuana use. A study published in 2022 by Oregon Health & Science University found that adolescent cannabis abuse in the U.S. has increased about 245% since 2000 and vaping is increasingly the most popular form of marijuana use. Mental health facilities are witnessing the detrimental impacts increased marijuana use can have on mental health. The first states to legalize marijuana are the “canary in the coalmine” and are sounding the alarm for the rest of the nation.

Marijuana Studies Over Time

Washington, the first state to legalize marijuana over 11 years ago, saw issues created by high potency marijuana products which led the University of Washington to study its impact. Existing research from UW indicates that consuming cannabis with increased THC potency heightens a user’s chances of developing a psychotic disorder for life, particularly among young people. That research identified high-potency as any cannabis with more than 10% THC. The lead author, who also teaches at the Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute in UW’s School of Medicine stated, “It is not only about people having anxiety and panic after being exposed to an enormous amount of THC in one hit. It is also about how using this amount of THC increases people’s chance to develop a full-blown psychotic disorder.” The National Institute of Health (NIH) recently released a press release highlighting the significant relationship between cannabis use disorder and schizophrenia, especially among young men. NIH states, “Researchers found strong evidence of an association between cannabis use disorder and schizophrenia among men and women, though the association was much stronger among young men. Using statistical models, the study estimated that as many as 30% of cases of schizophrenia among men aged 21-30 might have been prevented by averting cannabis use disorder.”

In Colorado, another early state to legalize, visits to Children’s Hospital Colorado facilities for treatment of cyclic vomiting, paranoia, psychosis and other acute cannabis-related symptoms jumped from 161 in 2005 to 777 in 2015. Increased problems with psychosis, addiction, suicide, depression and anxiety have also been well documented.

Cannabis and Mental Health

At HopeWay, we have seen firsthand the impact of potent marijuana use and its negative effects on mental health. We have seen young clients with no family history of psychosis or bipolar disorder come to HopeWay after acute psychiatric hospitalizations. We cannot deny the negative impact of high potency marijuana on our clients. From increases in depression and anxiety to emerging thought disorders, many times heavy marijuana use is clearly part of the clinical picture. Unfortunately, for many of these clients, sobriety does not resolve their mental health issues.

The purpose of this article is not to scare you or your child or make a case for or against legalization of marijuana. It is to shed light on a growing problem and help educate. Talk to your child and be aware of the warning signs. Like most things in life, too much of anything is not healthy and too much of very strong substances puts one’s physical and mental health at risk. One thing HopeWay clients learn is that dealing with a problem when it is small is much easier than ignoring it and putting off getting help until it is a crisis. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Signs of significant marijuana use may include: agitation, irritability, disorganization, change in self-care and grooming, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, change in friends, decreases in grades, bloodshot eyes, impaired coordination, the need for money, sleepiness, extreme hunger, memory loss, difficulty with basic challenges or problems, lack of resilience, worsening emotional wellbeing, depression, anxiety, hallucinations.  

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As the Director of Clinical Services at HopeWay since 2016, Dr. Bozman serves as a leader for the clinical team, while managing the clinical schedule and program offerings. He also facilitates groups, provides individual therapy and administers psychological testing. Dr. Bozman is a clinical psychologist who specializes in individual, family, and group psychotherapy as well as psychological assessment. His career has included various leadership roles, program development and direct clinical work in all levels of care for adults and adolescents. He has also appeared on local talk shows, in the print media and on the radio as an expert in the field of psychology.


Editor’s note: This blog post is presented for informational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness. If you have any health concern, see a licensed healthcare professional in person.