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08-15 Teen problems with marijuana have decreased since legalization

Posted in Advocacy, Legal, Marijuana

Teen problems with marijuana have decreased since legalization

The legalities, health benefits and behavioral and mental implications related to marijuana have attracted political attention from many different communities. In an important election year, marijuana has been a hot topic for debate and is still controversial.

With a strict federal ban but very lenient regulations on the statewide level, the legalities of this natural herb create a political conundrum. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of medical marijuana. Additionally, recreational marijuana is legal in four states and is up for election to be legalized in 11 additional states including California and Maine. Twenty states have decriminalized marijuana, meaning that there is no prison time, arrests or documented criminal records for first-time possessions carrying a small amount of marijuana. This “small amount” varies from state to state. The amount in California is 28.5 grams, the equivalent of one ounce, as more than this can be considered “intent to sell and distribute.” Decriminalization of marijuana allows non-violent crimes to be kept out of the legal system and prisons. Besides the legal ramifications of marijuana, there have been many studies covering the mental, physical and behavioral health effects of the substance.

Trends stemming from changes in marijuana legislation

It was once thought that by legalizing marijuana, crime rates would increase and adolescent addiction rates would sky rocket. However, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, studied the effects of the legalization of marijuana on mental health and behavioral problems in adolescents. A survey of more than 215,000 adolescents 12-17 years of age reported that since the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana in the United States, marijuana-related problems declined by 24 percent from 2012-2013. Problems associated with marijuana include becoming dependent on the drug and having behavioral problems in school and in relationships. The rates of fighting, property crimes and selling and distribution of drugs have also decreased. Although adult marijuana use has risen since the legalization, adolescent use and the subsequent consequences have decreased.

“We were surprised to see substantial declines in marijuana use and abuse. We don’t know how legalization is affecting young marijuana users, but it could be that many kids with behavioral problems are more likely to get treatment earlier in childhood, making them less likely to turn to pot during adolescence. But whatever is happening with these behavioral issues, it seems to be outweighing any effects of marijuana decriminalization”, according to the study’s first author, Richard A. Grucza, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry.

Marijuana has been called the “gateway drug” for teenagers, meaning that using this drug leads to the use of other harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin. However, the majority of marijuana users do not go on to use other harder drugs. Research has shown that marijuana, like alcohol and cigarettes, prime to the brain by decreasing dopamine, which can lead individuals to have a higher tendency for addiction. However, the direct link between marijuana and hard drugs such as cocaine does not exist.

Help for teens

Teenagers are constantly exposed to peer pressure leading to unsafe behaviors such as bullying, drinking and using illicit substances. Their frontal lobes are not yet fully developed, putting them at an increased likelihood for risky behaviors that may be detrimental. Extreme misbehavior and acting out in children and teenagers. Seeking help for misbehavior should be done earlier rather than later in order to diagnose suspected behavioral disorders which could be detrimental to their development if left untreated.

Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego provides comprehensive and holistic treatment for teens between 12 to 17 years of age dealing with mental health disorders, substance use and co-occurring disorders. If a teen is struggling with marijuana addiction we are able to help. For more information on our programs for teens, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at Sovereign Health and enjoys writing about evidence-based topic in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician author who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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