Even ‘Casual’ Marijuana Use Puts Teens at Risk

What do parents say?

“I smoked pot in high school and I’m ok, so I won’t make an issue of it now that I found out my teen is doing it. I prefer my kids don’t smoke pot, but it didn’t really harm me, and I don’t want a be hypocrite.”

“At least it’s pot and not opioids or fentanyl.” 

“It’s not addictive.”   

Is this reaction ok?   No it’s not.  Wake up parents; there’s a new landscape today and you had better be concerned.   Do everything in your power to stop it.

A Washington Post article earlier this year warned:  “That sense of disbelief — pot wouldn’t do this — is prevalent among parents who have watched their teenagers become gripped by addiction.”

One of the most impactful side effects of the expanded legalization movement is normalization.   Another outcome is the advertising to youth, and packaging made to imitate popular candies.  And yet another aspect is higher potency THC.

The narrative from the Big Cannabis industry and its special interest lobbyists is that marijuana is a safe and effective medicine…a harmless social vice…an expression of personal freedom…it’s ANYTHING but a dangerous and addictive drug.

But a recent Columbia University study found that there may be more cause for concern than most people think – teens who use marijuana are at elevated risk for mental health issues such as depression and suicidal ideation.

“Significantly Associated” with Psychiatric Problems

“The more you use it, the more it negatively affects your thinking. That’s increasing the likelihood of depression and more suicidal thoughts. It’s feedback that spirals downward and gets to a place that really concerns us as child psychiatrists.”

~ Dr. Sultan

The study, which was published in the May 2023 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and involved more than 68,000 teenagers.

Among the key findings:

  • “Non-disordered”, aka “casual” marijuana use was four times more common than cannabis use disorder, aka “marijuana addiction”, the condition where the person cannot stop using even after experiencing social, health, or legal problems.
  • However, both patterns of use were associated with higher rates of all adverse psychosocial events, including:

* Major depression

* Suicidal ideation

* Slower thoughts

* Difficulty concentrating

* Truancy

* Low grade point average (GPA)

* Arrest

* Fighting

* Aggression

  • Compared to non-users, teens who use marijuana casually are two to three times more likely to struggle with suicidal thoughts or be diagnosed with major depression.
  • Teens with CUD are four times more likely to develop mental health disorders. 

Researchers were very surprised to learn that casual recreational users were at such high risk for mental illness. Like much of the public, Dr. Sultan says, “We typically think of recreational use as not being a concerning behavior.”

Not Their Parents’ Pot

Some parents I work with ignore or condone that behavior. They don’t think of cannabis use as concerning, but it is.”

~ Dr. Sultan

Many parents view marijuana as relatively harmless, especially if they smoked weed when they were younger, or if they use it now. But the marijuana of today is not at all the same as it was in years past.

A generation ago, the average THC concentration was about 4%. But thanks to specialized breeding techniques, today’s strains can reach an average potency of greater than 20% THC. Popular vaping products like “wax” can be up to 99.7% THC.

Colorado’s Health Kids Survey  warns that the teens especially like the high-potency products — the edibles, wax, dabs and vapes.  And the Washington Post article mentioned above confirms it.

Parents with that mindset are exposing their children to more harm than they know. These recent findings only add to earlier research.

Previous Studies

Dr. Francis R. Levin, MD, an addiction psychiatrist and a Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia, says, “Exposing developing brains to dependency forming substances appears to prime the brain for being more susceptible to developing other forms of addiction later in life.”

What Does All This Mean?

“Parents need to educate their kids on this. Parents need to be looking at cannabis use, as well as their kids having an increased risk of depression and anxiety. Your radar needs to be up that they’re much more likely to have issues learning, depression and anxiety, and not assuming that it’s not problematic or ‘just a phase.’”

~ Dr. Sultan

This should serve as a wake-up call for parents who think that kids will be kids and that smoking pot is “no big deal”. Using any mind-altering substance, now, when their brains are at their most vulnerable, could be disastrous for their current and future physical and mental health.

Expanded marijuana legalization leads directly to an increase in problematic use. Tennagers think that since marijuana is legal, and since they see their parents using it, that it must not be that bad.

As study after study shows, nothing could be further from the truth.


If you need more information about the dangers of marijuana and drug culture and how you can protect your family, Parents Opposed to Pot is your most-trusted educational resource. We “burst the bubble” that marijuana is harmless and that expanded legalization benefits our country. You can help spread the word by SHARING this article with everyone you know and by subscribing to our free content.


Nondisordered Cannabis Use Among US Adolescents

National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)

Cannabis/Marijuana Use Disorder > Fact Sheets > Yale Medicine

Vaping – Parents Opposed to Pot

Surgeon General’s Advisory: Marijuana Use & the Developing Brain | HHS.gov

Frequent cannabis use by young people linked to decline in IQ | ScienceDaily

Teen Pot Smokers Have More Memory Damage, Study Says

Teens who smoke pot at risk for later schizophrenia, psychosis – Harvard Health

Marijuana Use Causes 7-Fold Increased Risk of Violent Behavior

The Association between Adolescent Cannabis Use and Anxiety: A Parallel Process Analysis – PMC

Recreational Cannabis Use By Teens Linked to Risk of Depression, Suicidality | Columbia University Department of Psychiatry

A new study found marijuana legalization leads to more problematic use