Statistics on Teen Marijuana Use

Teens and Kids Smoking Weed

Statistics on Teen Marijuana Use
Chris Elkins, MA |Last Updated: 2/27/20|4 sources

More teens smoked marijuana in 2017 than smoked cigarettes or used vaping products, according to the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey. Overall, rates of illicit drug use, cigarette use and alcohol use are declining among adolescents. But teen marijuana use has remained consistent for a decade.

The drug’s medical benefits and safety for adults is debatable. But it’s clear that marijuana use can cause lasting harm to the teen brain, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

And teens have access to more potent marijuana today than their parents had access to in the 1980s and ’90s. Youth also have access to electronic vaping products and pure THC oils.

“When you are vaping marijuana, you can put almost 100 percent pure THC,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, said during a teleconference attended by “So you are delivering a very, very high dose and therefore are ly to be linked with much worse adverse events than just smoking marijuana.”

Edible products, lotions and other forms of marijuana are also available. These products may appear to be less dangerous because they aren’t smoked or injected. But each contains THC, which can have a negative impact on the brain.

Risks of Teen Marijuana Use

Trying marijuana one time is unly to cause long-lasting health problems. But marijuana can complicate anxiety problems. Children with anxiety disorders may experience panic attacks when they smoke the drug or as marijuana leaves their system. Others may get hurt acting recklessly. But in general, the risks of one-time use are low.

“Particularly worrisome is regular patterns of use,” Volkow said. “In [high school] seniors, 5.9 percent of them report regular marijuana use, which is basically daily use.

“Why is this of concern? Because they are in school, and they are supposed to be learning and memorizing. This pattern of use has been shown to be associated with impairment in educational achievement and with very significant levels of dropout.”

  • Heart problems
  • Trouble breathing
  • Mental health issues

Regular marijuana use is also associated with lower life satisfaction. That may be caused by the drug’s effects on the pleasure system in the brain or life problems associated with marijuana use. For example, 12th-graders who smoke marijuana are twice as ly to get a traffic ticket, according to NIDA.

Marijuana also affects how ly a person is to use other drugs. Some research indicates that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to other drug use. But other studies suggest that people who use marijuana already face a high risk for drug abuse.

Child & Teen Marijuana Statistics

The Monitoring the Future Survey, sponsored by NIDA and conducted by the University of Michigan, is the most authoritative teen survey on drug use in the United States. It gathers data on middle school and high school drug use among a nationally representative sample of 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders.

Combined Marijuana Use Among Eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders in 2017Past 30-dayPast yearLifetime
14.5 percent
23.9 percent
29.3 percent

Source: 2017 Monitoring the Future Survey

As expected, rates of marijuana use are lowest among 8th-graders. By 12th grade, nearly half of teens reported trying marijuana at least once in their lifetime. More than a third of high school seniors used marijuana in 2017, and less than a quarter used marijuana monthly.

These marijuana statistics from the 2017 survey include smoking, vaping and eating the drug. Nearly 10 percent of 12th-graders reported that they vaped marijuana in the past year.

“In each of the grades, about 20 percent of total marijuana use was driven by people who only vape marijuana and don’t use it in any other way,” Volkow said.

Rates of marijuana edible use are higher in states that have legalized marijuana use for adults. Volkow said about 16.5 percent of students in states that legalized marijuana consumed marijuana edibles. In comparison, about 8 percent of students in states that haven’t legalized marijuana consumed edibles.

“We see that edibles are probably being used around 10 percent or 11 percent,” Volkow said regarding national edible use. “But there is a significant difference between the states.”

Why Kids Try Marijuana

Teens try drugs for a variety of reasons. Genetic and environmental factors affect which kids will try drugs. For example, a child raised by parents who smoke weed is more ly to try the drug than a child raised by parents who don’t.

Some children are born with self-control issues. These children may be more prone to take risks or give in to peer pressure.

  • To fit in
  • To get high
  • To relieve stress, sadness or anxiety
  • To experiment

Many kids try marijuana because they think it’s less harmful than other illicit drugs, such as cocaine or heroin. Less than 12 percent of high school seniors think trying marijuana once or twice will cause a great risk of harm. And less than one third think smoking marijuana regularly will cause a great risk of harm, according to Monitoring the Future.

Talking to Teens About Marijuana

Many teens are skeptical about marijuana warnings. They hear teachers and parents tell them not to do drugs, but they see drug use glamorized in the media. Talking to teens about marijuana can seem more complicated than talking to them about other types of drugs.

Un alcohol or cocaine, marijuana overdoses don’t kill people. Parents shouldn’t try to scare teens by exaggerating the drug’s hazards. They should educate them with the facts.

  • Explaining facts about the negative health effects of marijuana
  • Dispelling misconceptions
  • Discussing the risks of marijuana addiction and related legal problems
  • Brainstorming alternative ways to have fun
  • Enforcing strict rules regarding marijuana use

In general, many teens will try marijuana and never experience major legal or health problems. Those who frequently smoke the drug put themselves at risk for future problems with marijuana and other drugs. They also increase their chances of experiencing academic, legal and social problems.

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We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


Marijuana and Teens

Statistics on Teen Marijuana Use

Many teenagers experiment with marijuana.  29.7 percent of 10th graders and 44.5 percent of 12th graders have tried marijuana, with nearly 22.5 percent of 12th graders reporting that they have used marijuana in the past month and 6 percent reporting daily use.

Fortunately, parents can play an important role in teaching children about the risks associated with marijuana and other drugs.

What is marijuana?

Marijuana comes from the plant Cannabis Sativa. Marijuana is most commonly used by smoking the dried leaves and flowers in rolled paper (joints). Sometimes cigars are hollowed out and filled with marijuana and smoked (blunts). It can also be inhaled from pipes or water pipes (bongs) or from vaporizers. It can be taken orally mixed with food or drinks (edibles).

The concentration of marijuana strains has tripled from the 1980s to 2012, from about 4 percent to 12 percent. Today’s marijuana is much more potent than in past decades and potentially more risky for users.

Why is marijuana bad for teens?

Research shows that the brain continues to develop significantly during teen and young adult years. Many of the concerns about marijuana use in teens are regarding potential impacts on learning, development, and safety.

  • Impaired brain function: Regular use can impair memory, attention, and ability to plan, all of which interfere with learning. Frequent use in the early teen years can lower IQ and, even if marijuana use is discontinued, the effects on cognitive functioning can persist.
  • Addiction: Marijuana is an addictive substance and use at younger ages is tied to higher risk of addiction. After stopping use, withdrawal symptoms can include increased irritability, anxiety, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, low appetite, stomach pain, headaches and shakiness.
  • School and social impacts: Regular marijuana use is associated with poorer school performance, increased absences, increased risk of dropping out, and greater risk of involvement with the legal system. Even in states that allow adult recreational use, use for those under 21 is still illegal.
  • Safety: Reaction time, judgement, coordination, and problem-solving can be altered under the influence of marijuana. These effects help to explain the increased risk of driving accidents and other unintentional injuries in teens using marijuana.
  • Mental health impacts: There are worrisome links between marijuana use and the development of mental health disorders including psychosis and depression.

Medical uses of marijuana

Research into therapeutic uses of the active compounds in marijuana (cannabinoids) have shown beneficial effects in certain symptoms such as decreasing nausea and increasing appetite in people undergoing chemotherapy, and in helping with chronic nerve pain syndromes.

To date, most research into medical uses of marijuana has focused on adults.  Research with the teen population is limited, but there is some evidence for benefit of cannabinoids in the treatment of difficult to treat seizure disorders.

Signs of marijuana use

Consider marijuana or other drug use if your teen:

  • Loses interest in long-standing hobbies/activities
  • Has slipping grades, is showing up late for school or skipping classes
  • Spends less time than usual with friends and family and more time alone
  • Smells of marijuana
  • Has a dramatic change in personality, appearance, or friend group
  • Comes home high (blood shot eyes, giggly, talkative) or goes straight to their room
  • Possesses drugs or drug paraphernalia
  • Buys items with pro-marijuana messages/symbols

Some of these signs are vague and may end up being related to other issues such as mood problems, learning, or social difficulties. However, any issue that is causing a negative impact on relationships or school functioning is worth investigating.

What parents can do to prevent marijuana use in teens

Parents have a powerful role to play in influencing their child’s attitudes and behaviors around marijuana and other drug use.

  • Engage in conversations about marijuana (TV shows, news headlines, or peer use can provide an opportunity for discussion). Encourage questions and listen to your teen’s opinions, experiences and concerns. You don’t have to have all the answers–you can look up information together. Express concerns that you have about teen marijuana use.
  • Set clear family rules and expectation.Let your teen know that you expect they will not use drugs or ride in cars with anyone under the influence. Have clear rules about curfew. Make a point of knowing where your teen is and communicating with their friends’ parents about plans. Having a network of parents involved in oversight can be very helpful.
  • Help teens prepare for handling peer pressure. Talk about potential tricky situations teens might find themselves in and think through different ways to handle those situations. Consider having a code word that teens can text you anytime they are in an uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situation that means “please come pick me up and provide me with an excuse to get here.”
  • Help your teen learn skills to cope with difficult emotions.There will be difficult experiences and emotions during adolescent years and it is a time when people develop their coping strategies. Sometimes there are unhealthy strategies that may help in the moment— drug use or self-harm behaviors—but overall will create more stress and difficulties. Modeling and discussing healthy strategies for coping with sadness, disappointment, anger, anxiety, and rejection can help teens develop beneficial life-long habits. Help your teen figure out what helps bring them joy and relaxation so they can turn to and practice these approaches. Examples could include connecting with and talking to friends/family, music, physical activity, meditation or mindfulness techniques, religious practices, journaling, or getting out into nature.
  • Set a good example.Even more than doing what you say, teens will often do what they see. This pertains to many habits and behaviors including drug use and stress management. Avoid using tobacco and illicit drugs and minimize alcohol use. Model safe driving using seat belts, never driving under the influence, and avoiding cell phone use while driving. If you do use marijuana, avoid using it in front of your children and keep any marijuana products in an inaccessible place. Model healthy ways of coping with stress.
  • Get help from your teen’s physician or a local program when you have concerns about her/his mood or behavior. Express those concerns to your teen and let a physician or other professional help you to assess the situation. 

Additional resources:

Written by Katie Miller, MD
Update September 2017


What You Need to Know About Marijuana Use in Teens

Statistics on Teen Marijuana Use

  • 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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