Common Reasons Why Young Adults Use Marijuana

Marijuana Risks to Young Adults: Symptoms & treatment of cannabis use

Common Reasons Why Young Adults Use Marijuana

When a person smokes marijuana, THC and other chemicals travel through the bloodstream to the brain and other organs, resulting in the feel-good “high.

” Marijuana use affects the parts of the brain that are responsible for memory, learning, attention, decision-making, coordination, emotions and reaction time.

Scientists who have studied brain imaging scans of heavy marijuana smokers have seen changes in blood flow to the parts of the brain involved in memory and attention. In still developing young adult brains the effects may be more pronounced.

Courtesy Amen Clinics

While more studies are needed to determine how long these effects last and if some changes may be permanent, one New Zealand study is particularly alarming.

It showed that people who began smoking marijuana heavily as teens and continued throughout adulthood lost an average of eight IQ points between ages 13 and 38.

Quitting as adults did not restore those lost points. Marijuana effectively made them dumber.

Marijuana’s effect on the young adult brain include altered senses, a skewed sense of time and perception, mood changes, difficulty thinking and memory loss. With higher doses, the user faces the more serious risks of hallucinations, delusions and even psychosis. Regular users with a family history of schizophrenia are more ly to be diagnosed with the condition.

What are the Health Effects of Marijuana?

While there have been no reported user fatalities resulting directly from marijuana, it can have serious consequences to physical and mental health. Those who regularly and heavily use marijuana also are ly to experience poor achievement at school and work, relationship difficulties, and lower life satisfaction.

Marijuana smoke contains many of the same chemicals as tobacco smoke, including ammonia, hydrogen cyanide and formaldehyde. Some of these chemicals are known to cause cancer.

While there is currently no proof that smoking marijuana is linked to lung cancer, heavy marijuana smoking can lead to damage and precancerous changes in users’ lungs — especially if they also smoke cigarettes.

 According to the CDC, however, researchers have found evidence of an association between frequent or chronic marijuana smoking and testicular cancer.

Users experience a fast heart rate for up to three hours after smoking, which increases the chance for heart attack, especially in older people and those with heart conditions.

Other health effects of marijuana include bloodshot eyes, dry mouth, increased appetite and slowed coordination, which can lead to accidents.

Regular, long-term marijuana use can lead to a condition called Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, indicated by symptoms of severe nausea, vomiting and dehydration.

In a study of long-term health effects of marijuana later in life, researchers at the University of Michigan found that longer-term cannabis use starting from age 18 into the late twenties was associated with increased risk of health problems at age 50. Compared to non-users, these fifty-year-olds had more psychological visits and lifetime psychiatric problems, a higher prevalence of lifetime drug problems and exhibited more cognitive difficulties, physical illnesses and lifelong alcohol problems.

Cannabis use has been linked to mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, paranoia, hallucinations, psychotic reactions and suicidal ideations in teens. More studies need to be done to draw firmer conclusions, however.

Can Marijuana Adversely Affect Others?

Cannabis risks to teens and young children are real, particularly fetuses and newborns. Use during pregnancy has been linked to lower birth weight and an increased risk of brain and behavioral problems.

Some research has suggested that moderate amounts of THC could be excreted into the breast milk of nursing mothers.

Since studies show that little THC is released into the air when a smoker exhales, it’s unly that non-smokers nearby would be adversely affected or receive a “high.

” Although more research is needed to ascertain if the risks of secondhand marijuana smoke are similar to those of secondhand tobacco smoke, vulnerable populations such as children and asthmatics could be affected by the toxins and tar found in marijuana smoke.

Marijuana Legalization Facts: Colorado Results

Since Colorado legalized recreational pot in late 2012, the industry has been booming: Close to 500 retail cannabis stores have opened in the state, compared to 392 Starbucks and 208 McDonald’s restaurants.

Not surprisingly, the numbers of marijuana-related accidents and illnesses also have been on the rise, according to a 2017 report issued by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area which provides marijuana legalization facts monitoring its impact in Colorado.

In its most recent report comparing statistics pre-legalization (starting in 2006 through 2012) to post-legalization (through 2016), the researchers found that in the three years following legalization, cannabis use in Colorado increased:

  • 12 percent for youth (55 percent higher than national average)
  • 16 percent for college-aged users (61 percent higher than national average)
  • 71 percent for adults (124 percent higher than national average)

From 2013 to 2016, the researchers discovered a 66 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths from pre-legislation.

In 2016, the number of marijuana-related traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana was 21 percent — more than double the 9 percent reported in 2009.

Also after legalization, the researchers noted the rate of annual emergency department visits related to cannabis increased 35 percent and the annual number of cannabis-related hospitalizations increased 72 percent.

The marijuana legalization facts coming Colorado are alarming, and are revealing negative consequences that go beyond the user to the community at large.

The New Pot Risks for Young Adults

Young people often think, “My parents used pot and turned out fine — what is the harm?” What they don’t realize is the potency has increased significantly since the legalization of medical marijuana in California in 1996.

Historically, herbal marijuana has been as little as 2 percent THC, but available compounds now, particularly concentrated cannabis extracts, may be 25 percent or higher. The new pot risks for young adults are already being seen.

People need to be aware that today’s more potent cannabis product delivers effects that are wise more intense: confusion, hallucinations, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, conjunctivitis, dilated pupils, slowed reaction times, increased appetite and irritability. In severe cases, a person may develop coma, delirium or seizures.

Since marijuana legalization began, calls to Poison Control Centers nationwide have risen, with callers asking questions ranging from how to manage someone who has been “altered” after smoking an unknown quantity of marijuana to concern over children who consumed edible cannabis products.

Cannabis in edibles and baked goods poses special risks to teens and small children. Since it takes longer for the body to digest, it will also take users longer to register THC’s effects. This can prompt people to consume more than they should prior to feeling a high — and thus overdose, experiencing sudden anxiety and panic.

Consumable marijuana remains in the body longer than the smoked variety, so users can experience hangover effects, such as cotton mouth or bloodshot eyes, the following day.

Emergency responders have seen increasing cases of pot edibles resulting in psychotic reactions, and young children are at risk mistaking edibles for candy and becoming accidentally poisoned.

While marijuana may become increasingly legalized, people should remember it is still a drug with mind-altering effects that can affect reaction time and make driving unsafe, as noted above in Colorado’s 66% increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths after legalization.

Treatments for Marijuana Use Disorder

People with marijuana use disorders often have a co-occurring disorder, such as a mental health condition or alcohol use disorder.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, studies have shown that effectively treating the mental health disorder with a combination of medication and behavioral therapies — such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, reward-based therapy and motivational enhancement therapy — may help reduce cannabis use. At this time, the FDA has not approved any specific treatments for marijuana use disorder, but research is ongoing.



Common Reasons Why Young Adults Use Marijuana

ALSO KNOWN AS: marijuana, bud, blunt, chronic, dab, dope, ganja, grass, green, herb, joint, loud, Mary Jane, MJ, pot, reefer, skunk, smoke, trees, wax, or weed. Variants include: hash, shatter, K2, spice.

Get to know more about cannabis and explore the effects that early use of cannabis products can have on a young person’s life, then have a conversation with your child. 

What is cannabis?

Cannabis is the second most commonly used substance in Canada, after alcohol.

Cannabis is a product of the plant Cannabis Sativa. The main active chemical in cannabis is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). Of the roughly 400 chemicals found in the cannabis plant, THC affects the brain the most.

It is a mind-altering chemical that gives those who use cannabis a high.

  Another active chemical in cannabis is CBD (cannabidiol), which is being studied for its potential medical applications and its ability to moderate the effects of THC.

For information on the medicinal use of cannabis please consult: CCSA’s Clearing the Smoke on Cannabis: Medical Use of Cannabis and Cannabinoids.

What does cannabis look & how is it used?

Cannabis can be consumed in several ways; inhaled, ingested, or applied topically, and there are significant differences in the way the effects are felt.

Dried cannabis can be rolled into a cigarette, called a “joint” or in a cigar, called a “blunt”. It can be smoked in a water pipe or “bong” or vaped in an e-cigarette or other vaping devices.

Cannabis edibles can be brewed as tea, infused into drinks, or mixed into food and ingested as candies, cookies, and brownies. Consuming cannabis edibles brownies or cookies is considered by some youth to be a less risky way of consuming than smoking it.

Ingesting cannabis can have delayed and unpredictable effects. A long waiting time is recommended when ingesting cannabis products to avoid the accumulation of effects. 

Cannabis extracts, which include oils and tinctures can also be ingested or inhaled in a pipe or bong and/or vaped with an e-cigarette or other vaping devices. Cannabis extracts can often have more concentrated levels of THC.

All cannabis products are legal for retail sale only at licensed outlets. Cannabis should be produced by licensed producers and purchased only from licensed vendors. Evidence suggests that illegal cannabis products can be contaminated with pesticides and harmful chemicals. 1 

Synthetic cannabinoids K2 or Spice should be completely avoided.

Inhalation vs Ingestion – What happens in the body?

Inhaling – Smoking or Vaping

When cannabis or cannabis extracts oils are inhaled or vaped, THC is delivered directly to the lungs, passes through the bloodstream, and on to the brain where the effects (the “high”) are felt within minutes of inhaling.

  • A few seconds or minutes to start to feel some of the effects
  • 30 minutes to feel the full effects
  • 6 hours for some of the acute or immediate effects to subside
  • Some residual effects last up to 24 hours

Something to know! The number of Ontario high school students (grades 7- 12) vaping cannabis doubled between 2015 (5%) and 2019 (10%) 2

Important: Vaping is considered to be a smoking cessation aid for adults who already smoke. Vaping is not considered safe at all for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or any adult who does not already use tobacco products.

Ingesting – Eating or Drinking

The effects of ingesting cannabis are delayed – they can take much longer to appear. When cannabis edibles or beverages are ingested, THC travels to the stomach, then to your liver before reaching your bloodstream and brain. The liver metabolizes the THC to a stronger chemical called 11-hydroxy-THC, which combined with the THC consumed, can make the “high” seem more intense.

Depending on the individual, the effects can take 30 minutes to two hours to be felt.

  • 30 minutes to 2 hours to start to feel some of the effects
  • 4 hours to feel the full effects
  • Up to 12 hours for acute effects to subside
  • Some residual effects can last up to 24 hours

Something to know! Cannabis edible consumption by Ontario high school students in Grades 7  through 12 increased between 2017 and 2019 – from 11% to 14% 3

Signs & symptoms of cannabis use

There is no single reason why a young person might choose to use cannabis.

A teen or young adult may try cannabis for social reasons, as a way to fit in or socialize with their peers, or because they think “everyone is doing it.

” They may also use cannabis as a coping mechanism to deal with life stresses,to help them sleep, stimulate their appetite or reduce worry or stress.5

If a young person is self-medicating with cannabis to cope with anxiety or stress, they may be more ly to continue if it works for them. They might think “ When I feel stressed out, I smoke pot and it relaxes me”.

They may continue to use cannabis instead of finding healthy behaviours as alternatives – sports, hanging out with a friend, playing music, talking to someone about their feelings, or reading a book – that can help in coping with the stress they feel.

Frequent or regular use of cannabis can lead to cannabis use disorder or addiction. It has an effect on the brain’s reward system – as do all other addictive drugs – the lihood of developing problem use or addiction increases considerably for those who start young. 6

Cannabis and Canadian youth – some things to know

The rate of cannabis use is over two times higher among Canadian youth and young adults than adults.7

  • Canadian youth continue to have one of the highest rates of cannabis use worldwide. In 2018, the World Health Organization compared lifetime cannabis use among youth aged 15 across 40 countries and found that use by Canadian youth was the third-highest, 23% of boys and 21% of girls. 8
  • An estimated one in 5 Ontario students in grades 7-12 (22%) used cannabis in 2019.9
  • Cannabis use by students across Canada increased from 16.7% in 2016 – 2017 to 18.1% in 2018 – 2019 10
  • It’s estimated that 1 in 6 teens who consume cannabis will develop a cannabis use disorder.  11
  • Cannabis was the most common substance associated with substance-related hospitalizations for youth aged 10 to 24 years in 2017–2018. 12


1 – Journal of Toxicology, 2013 Nicholas Sullivan et al.

2,3 – OSDUHS 2019

4,5 – McKiernan &Fleming 2017 Canadian Youth Perceptions on Cannabis, CCSA

6 – Drug Alcohol Depend, Winters and Lee 2008.

7 – Canadian Drug Summary – CCSA May 2020

8 – Health Behaviour in School-aged Children 2018, World Health Organization

9 – OSDUHS 2019

10 – Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey 2018–2019 (CSTADS)

11 – Government of Canada. (2019). Addiction to cannabis. Retrieved from

12 – Canadian Institute for Health Information. (2019). Hospital Stays for Harm Caused by Substance Use Among Youth Age 10 to 24

Looking for ways to help support your family’s mental wellness during the pandemic? 


What You Need to Know About Marijuana Use in Teens

Common Reasons Why Young Adults Use Marijuana

  • 38% of high school students report having used marijuana in their life.1
  • Research shows that marijuana use can have permanent effects on

    the developing brain when use begins in adolescence, especially with regular or heavy use.2

  • Frequent or long-term marijuana

    use is linked to school
    dropout and lower educational achievement.3

The teen years are a time of rapid growth, exploration, and onset of risk taking. Taking risks with new behaviors provides kids and teens the opportunity to test their skills and abilities and discover who they are. But, some risk behaviors—such as using marijuana—can have harmful and long-lasting effects on a teen’s health and well-being.

Marijuana and the teen brain

Un adults, the teen brain is actively developing and often will not be fully developed until the mid 20s. Marijuana use during this period may harm the developing teen brain.

Negative effects include:

  • Difficulty thinking and problem solving.
  • Problems with memory and learning.
  • Impaired coordination.
  • Difficulty maintaining attention.3

Negative effects on school and social life

Marijuana use in adolescence or early adulthood can have a serious impact on a teen’s life.

  • Decline in school performance. Students who smoke marijuana may get lower grades and may more ly to drop high school than their peers who do not use.4
  • Increased risk of mental health issues. Marijuana use has been linked to a range of mental health problems in teens such as depression or anxiety.5 Psychosis has also been seen in teens at higher risk those with a family history.6
  • Impaired driving. Driving while impaired by any substance, including marijuana, is dangerous. Marijuana negatively affects a number of skills required for safe driving, such as reaction time, coordination, and concentration.7, 8
  • Potential for addiction.a Research shows that about 1 in 6 teens who repeatedly use marijuana can become addicted, which means that they may make unsuccessful efforts to quit using marijuana or may give up important activities with friends and family in favor of using marijuana.


a The term “addiction” is used to describe compulsive drug seeking despite negative consequences.

However, we recognize that “addiction” is not considered a specific diagnosis in the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)—a diagnostic manual used by clinicians that contains descriptions and symptoms of all mental disorders classified by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Rather the DSM-5 uses the term substance use disorder. However, throughout this document addiction is used synonymously with having a substance use disorder for ease of language recognition and understanding.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. 2016 [cited 2016 November 16, 2016]; Available from:
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are marijuana’s long-term effects on the brain? 2016 [cited 2016 November 16, 2016]; Available from: icon.
  3. Fergusson, D.M. and J.M. Boden, Cannabis use and later life outcomes. Addiction, 2008. 103(6): p. 969-76; discussion 977-8.
  4. Broyd, S.J., et al., Acute and Chronic Effects of Cannabinoids on Human Cognition-A Systematic Review. Biol Psychiatry, 2016. 79(7): p. 557-67.
  5. Copeland, J., S. Rooke, and W. Swift, Changes in cannabis use among young people: impact on mental health. Curr Opin Psychiatry, 2013. 26(4): p. 325-9.
  6. Arseneault, L., et al., Cannabis use in adolescence and risk for adult psychosis: longitudinal prospective study. BMJ, 2002. 325(7374): p. 1212-3.
  7. Bondallaz, P., et al., Cannabis and its effects on driving skills. Forensic Sci Int, 2016. 268: p.92-102.
  8. Hartman, R.L. and M.A. Huestis, Cannabis effects on driving skills. Clin Chem, 2013. 59(3): p. 478-92.
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction 2014 [cited 2016 December 29].


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