Last year voters decided to legalize recreational marijuana use across the state of Arizona. For parents, legalization adds another element of difficulty in teaching and raising kids to be drug-free. After the rise in cases of e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI) in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic that followed, teens became warier of smoking and vaping as a whole. Now, as acceptance of recreational marijuana use becomes more widespread and more types of marijuana products, such as edibles and vapes, are made available, teens may become more interested and be inclined to start using this drug. The facts remain the same, marijuana is illegal to use for those under the age of 21 and poses serious health risks to teens.
A child's brain isn't fully developed until 25, and significant development occurs throughout this process. During our teenage years, the brain transforms and streamlines decision-making, critical thinking, memory, and problem-solving. During this time, our brain becomes as healthy and intelligent as possible before it is fully developed. Regular marijuana use, like alcohol and many other drugs, disrupts this development and changes the brain's structure. The marijuana out there today is also much more potent and has higher THC levels, increasing the risk for addiction and long-term harm to the brain.
It's a common misconception that smoking or vaping marijuana is less dangerous than smoking cigarettes. However, all of these have cancer-causing substances. When teens smoke or vape marijuana, they are putting both their brain and lungs at risk for long-term damage, as many experienced with the EVALI. The act of regularly smoking or vaping can quickly become a coping mechanism as teenagers navigate dealing with stress and other emotions.
It's more important than ever for parents and caregivers to talk about substance abuse, particularly marijuana. Don't wait for your teen to bring up the subject, be proactive, and have these conversations early on in your teen's life and as often as possible. The beginning of the summer is a great time to start ongoing conversations and discuss legalization, the dangers of marijuana use, substance abuse, and find out what your teen already knows.
It may be challenging to figure out what to tell your teen or how to get started. Consider this toolkit to guide your conversation.
To learn more about vaping, visit MaricopaCountyAttorney.org/Vaping