CONTACT 'Heavy' teen weed use rockets up - Dr. Christian Thurstone

After years of decline, marijuana use rates among teenagers are rising rapidly: try an 80 percent increase in heavy use since 2008, according to a study released by MetLife Foundation and The Partnership at

What’s the definition of a heavy user? Someone who uses at least 20 times a month.

As a doc who treats young people with substance abuse and addiction problems, that’s a big deal. Those young people are in serious trouble. Consider that teenagers reporting “heavy” past-month marijuana use are significantly more likely than teens who have not used in the past year to:

  • use cocaine/crack (30 times more likely)
  • use Ecstasy (20 times more likely)
  • abuse prescription pain relievers (15 times more likely)
  • abuse over-the-counter medicines (14 times more likely).
  • Why the sharp rise in teen marijuana use? There are three main drivers:

  • Accessibility Marijuana is more accessible in large part because of the increase of marijuana dispensaries in states where so-called “medical” marijuana is legal. Medical researchers in Colorado have found that a significant number of young patients being treated for marijuana addiction have gotten/are getting the drug from adults who have marijuana licenses in this state. In other words, there’s a growing body of evidence that the “medical” marijuana we already legalize and regulate for use is landing in more kids’ hands.
  • Social acceptance Again, thanks to marijuana dispensaries and the bogus “marijuana-is-medicine” movement, kids receive very mixed messages about this addictive substance that is especially harmful to them. Take a look at materials I helped produce for the Colorado Department of Education about why marijuana is dangerous to the developing brain.
  • Perceived risk of harm The more accessible and socially acceptable something becomes, the less people recognize its potential for harm. As this study notes, more kids exhibit thinking that amounts to “It could never happen to me,” and “I won’t fall for that,” and “I know what I’m doing.”
  • About Chris Thurstone

    Dr. Christian Thurstone is one of only a few dozen physicians in the United States who are board-certified in general, child and adolescent and addictions psychiatry. He is Director of Behavioral Health Services at Denver Health and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado, where he conducts research on youth substance use and addiction and serves as director of medical training for the university’s addiction psychiatry fellowship program. You can read more about him here.

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