How to Tell If Your Teen Is Smoking Pot
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, author of the bestselling book “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” and a highly sought-after speaker.
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Marijuana is one of the most commonly used drug among teenagers. Yet, many teens don’t even consider it to be a drug. Changes in laws regarding medicinal marijuana and recreational use causes many teens to doubt the dangers of marijuana use.
A 2018 survey of 12th-grade students found that just over 22% of teens said they had smoked marijuana within the past month. Teens continue to report that marijuana is easily accessible and very affordable.
Make sure you know the warning signs that could indicate your teen is using marijuana.
What Marijuana Looks Like
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Marijuana resembles tobacco but can take on several forms. It can be green and brown or grayish in color. It includes the dried leaves, flowers, and stems of the cannabis plant.
It may be shredded or crumbled, which is how it looks when it is smoked.
Sometimes teens will create a blunt out of a hollowed-out cigar filled with marijuana.
Teens crumble marijuana and roll it into a cigarette or use a pipe or bong to smoke. Sometimes teens place marijuana in food, like brownies, or make it into a tea.
Signs Your Teen Is High
Being high on marijuana is unique to the individual, but there are some signs you may notice if your teen has recently smoked pot:
- Your teen may have red, bloodshot eyes.
- Your teen could be very giddy or very tired, depending on when they got high.
- Your teen may be paranoid or anxious.
- They may get the “munchies” and be hungry for anything they can get their hands on.
Mood or Behavior Changes
A change in behavior is one of the biggest telltale signs your teen may be using drugs.
Regular marijuana use might lead to varying behavior at school, work, changes in attendance in school, or mood swings. Your teen’s appearance may change, too.
Additionally, it could be that your teen demonstrates a more laid-back or “lazy” demeanor. It’s possible they may neglect chores or other activities. However, it’s important to remember that the effects of marijuana on an individual vary. It’s best not to make the assumption your teen is on drugs until you have further evidence or you are able to have an honest discussion with them about it.
Signs of Drug Paraphernalia
While it’s good practice to give your teen privacy, it’s important to remember what your teen is doing is your business. So if you have a reason to suspect your teen is using drugs, it’s worth investigating.
Be on the lookout for pipes, rolling papers, and baggies with marijuana residue. These items may be hidden in canisters, books, or bottles in your teen’s room.
Your Teen’s Friends
Sometimes, parents find out about their teen’s marijuana use through their teen’s friends. A parent might confide in you that your child’s friend was caught smoking marijuana or using drugs.
Spending time with friends who use drugs may indicate that your teen could be using drugs as well. It’s important to know who is influencing your teen. If you know your teen’s friends are smoking, you can use this fact to open up a conversation about what it means to your teen that his/her friends are smoking, which may lead you to discover if your teen is participating as well.
Hiding the Evidence
Teens who use marijuana, especially around the home, have to be resourceful to mask the smell and hide the evidence.
Marijuana has a distinct order and if you have ever smelled it, you’ll recognize it again. If you have not, call your local community center or police department and sign up for a D.A.R.E. or parenting class on teen drug use.
You may find your teen has taken an interest in incense or air fresheners. Or, they may start using eye drops to mask the redness in their eyes.
If you’re suspicious your teen may be using marijuana, a home drug testing kit can give you an answer. Available at pharmacies and online drug stores, most kits will test for a variety of drugs, including marijuana.
And while positive test results could be a first step in getting your teen help, drug testing your child definitely has some serious risks. It could greatly impair your relationship with your teen. And that could be quite harmful in the long-term.
Additionally, at-home drug tests don’t detect all drugs. Synthetic drugs, for example, might not show up on a screening even though they can be just as dangerous as other drugs.
So think twice about drug testing your teen. Instead, put your energy into creating a healthy relationship that encourages your teen to be honest with you.
Again, marijuana use varies per the individual. Behavior changes may come in many different forms, so it is best not to jump to conclusions that your teen is on drugs and to try to communicate with them openly and honestly.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
If you suspect your teen may be using marijuana, you should be on the lookout for these warning signs that may indicate drug use.
Dialing down the noise: What are the signs someone is addicted to weed?
Right out of the gate, asking about the signs someone is addicted to weed is going to cause a firestorm.
We get it. Marijuana has a healthy contingent of defenders, to the point that, at times, it’s difficult to have a civil conversation about it. Like any other mind- or mood-altering substance, discussing the potential for addiction to marijuana isn’t a value judgment about the substance itself. It is, like any other drink or drug, an assemblage of chemical compounds that affects everyone in different ways.
In the case of marijuana, thousands of individuals partake with absolutely no consequences, meaning it never develops into a problem. In fact, marijuana has a great many advocates who tout its benefits as a holistic alternative to pharmaceutical medicine, and there are indeed some scientific studies that have demonstrated its medicinal effectiveness.
Addiction, however, is a process that takes place in the brain of afflicted individuals, many of whom are biologically or genetically predisposed to it regardless of what substances they consume — from heroin to cocaine to alcohol to, yes, marijuana. The signs someone is addicted to weed may not lead them to the bitter ends of other addictive substances, but the entire concept of recovery is built around quality of life.
In that regard, marijuana can have a negative impact and lead to problems that worsen the quality of life for those who become addicted to it rather than enhancing it, as it may do for some. Those individuals shouldn’t be shamed for wanting to do something about it.
So how does marijuana affect the brain? When did we, as a species and a culture, develop an affinity for it? And what ARE the signs someone is addicted to weed? Let’s dive in.
Weed 101: What Is It?
Pot, reefer, weed, grass, ganja, herb, Mary Jane … marijuana has been saddled with a number of slang terms over the years, but for the sake of this particular blog, they all come down to one thing: cannabis, and specifically the chemical compound delta-9 tetrahydro-cannabinol, commonly referred to as THC. Cannabis is the name of the plant from which weed comes — specifically, cannabis sativa, which “grows wild in many of the tropical and temperate areas of the world. It can be grown in almost any climate, and is increasingly cultivated by means of indoor hydroponic technology,” according to the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute .
THC is the chemical compound that gives cannabis consumers the “high” that they desire. While there’s been an explosion of THC-related products as marijuana has been legalized in a number of states, the three main forms of cannabis, according to the University of Washington, are “marijuana, hashish and hash oil. Marijuana is made from dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant. It is the least potent of all the cannabis products and is usually smoked or made into edible products like cookies or brownies. Hashish is made from the resin (a secreted gum) of the cannabis plant. It is dried and pressed into small blocks and smoked. It can also be added to food and eaten. Hash oil, the most potent cannabis product, is a thick oil obtained from hashish. It is also smoked.”
Granted, those three are not the end-all, be-all of products derived from cannabis, and we’ll get into some of the more modern consumables later on. The focus here is on THC, which is the chemical that can pose problems. Those who show signs someone is addicted to weed are really addicted to the effects THC has on the brain.
So how does it affect the brain? For starters, THC mimics a naturally occurring brain chemical called anadamide, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) , which function as neurotransmitters that relay messages between nerve cells: “They affect brain areas that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, and sensory and time perception. Because of this similarity, THC is able to attach to molecules called cannabinoid receptors on neurons in these brain areas and activate them, disrupting various mental and physical functions.”
These cannabinoid receptors, according to the website BrainFacts.org , “exists in brain areas that are critical for learning, memory, pain perception, and reward processing,” and the introduction of THC causes a number of things to happen, the NIDA points out:
- Because it affects the hippocampus and the orbitofrontal cortex, “areas that enable a person to form new memories and shift his or her attentional focus … using marijuana causes impaired thinking and interferes with a person’s ability to learn and perform complicated tasks.”
- THC also affects normal functioning in the cerebellum and the basal ganglia, “brain areas that regulate balance, posture, coordination, and reaction time.”
- Finally, through those natural cannabinoid receptors, THC “also activates the brain’s reward system, which includes regions that govern the response to healthy pleasurable behaviors such as sex and eating. Like most other drugs that people misuse, THC stimulates neurons in the reward system to release the signaling chemical dopamine at levels higher than typically observed in response to natural stimuli. This flood of dopamine contributes to the pleasurable ‘high’ that those who use recreational marijuana seek.”
Signs Someone Is Addicted to Weed: A Brief History
Again, it’s important to frame this conversation as one about a certain segment of the population who develop a problem with marijuana. If you’re seeking signs someone is addicted to weed, it’s easy to take every physical symptom as a harbinger of doom, but ancient civilizations have used cannabis “in medicine, magic, religion and recreation,” according to High Times magazine , the authority on all things weed since 1974. Some of those civilizations, High Times writer Alan Sumler detailed in 2017, included:
- The Assyrians and Babylonians of Mesopotamia, where “it was used for treating depression, as well as in different medical recipes. Under the name kunubu, it was one of the ingredients in their religious incense, which they traded with Egypt and Judaea.”
- In Bactria — what’s now Afghanistan and Turkmenistan — “Zoroastrian priests prepared the plant as an ingredient in their religious drinks.”
- In ancient India, cannabis was called bhang and ganjha (twisted rope). Their pharmaceutical texts (ca. 1600 BCE) prescribe the plant for treating anxiety, among other common ailments.”
- Cannabis and hemp were present in ancient Egypt, and in nearby Judaea, “cannabis appears as one of the ingredients in holy incense and anointing oil under the name kaneh bosm.”
- “The ancient Greek historian Herodotus (5th century BCE) wrote about the nomadic Scythians and their fumigation of cannabis flowers.”
- The Subeixi, which flourished in the contemporary Chinese province of Xinjiang, “ancient cannabis remains of 16 intact female plants were found in a grave, lain across the deceased body as a burial shroud. Another grave in a nearby cemetery contained a little under two pounds of processed and cut cannabis.”
- “The Roman naturalist Pliny (23-79 CE) mentioned cannabis in several passages, including medical usages.”
By the 16 th century, cannabis had expanded westward, according to the DEA Museum , “where Spaniards imported it to Chile for its use as fiber” circa 1545. “In North America cannabis, in the form of hemp, was grown on many plantations for use in rope, clothing and paper.” It was in the 19 th century, according to History.com , that cannabis began to appear as a component of Western medicine when “Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, an Irish doctor studying in India, found that cannabis extracts could help lessen stomach pain and vomiting in people suffering from cholera. By the late 1800s, cannabis extracts were sold in pharmacies and doctors’ offices throughout Europe and the United States to treat stomach problems and other ailments.”
In the early part of the 20 th century, however, marijuana began to be seen in a different light. According to Eric Schlosser, writing in 1994 for the publication Atlantic , “The political upheaval in Mexico that culminated in the Revolution of 1910 led to a wave of Mexican immigration to states throughout the American Southwest. The prejudices and fears that greeted these peasant immigrants also extended to their traditional means of intoxication: smoking marijuana.” Law enforcement and government officials began to demonize weed, and headlines like this 1925 one in The New York Times  were common: “Mexican, Crazed by Marihuana, Runs Amuck With Butcher Knife.”
In 1937, the federal government passed the Marijuana Tax Act, “the first federal U.S. law to criminalize marijuana nationwide,” according to History.com . “The Act imposed an excise tax on the sale, possession or transfer of all hemp products, effectively criminalizing all but industrial uses of the plant.” That was repealed in 1970 with the introduction and passage of the Controlled Substances Act, which “listed marijuana as a Schedule I drug — along with heroin, LSD and ecstasy — with no medical uses and a high potential for abuse. It was identified in anti-drug programs like D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) as a ‘gateway drug.’”
States began to push back against such a draconian measure in 1996, when California, which passed the “Compassionate Use Act of 1996, became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use by people with severe or chronic illnesses.”
As of 2020, according to Esquire magazine , there are 11 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have legalized weed (Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington) for personal use, and another 22 have legalized it for medical use only. Although still technically considered a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, it remains completely illegal in 17 states: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
It may seem like a joke to ask about the signs someone is addicted to weed, but it's important to remember: Addiction isn't necessarily about the substance.