Twelve Talks to

Have With Teens


Use of marijuana during the teen years results in damage to the teen’s rapidly developing brain, and can result in impaired cognitive function. Plus, the younger a person starts using marijuana, the more likely they are to use harmful substances later in life. 

  • By the time they are seniors in high school, 29% of Jefferson County students report using marijuana in the past 30 days. Youth report that marijuana use is common across many social groups, including gifted students, athletes, and those with involved parents.  


  • What's the problem with youth using marijuana?

    • Marijuana is not always addictive to teenagers, but it can be. About 1 in 6 youth who use marijuana will become addicted, a number that increases the more the youth uses and the earlier they start.

    • Youth who use marijuana regularly are more likely to have difficulty learning, memory issues and have lower math and reading scores. The more marijuana youth use, the harder it may be for them to learn. These effects can last weeks after quitting. Using marijuana before the age of 25 can also affect brain development and especially in high doses, can cause temporary psychosis (not knowing what is real, hallucinations and paranoia) while the user is high.

    • In addition to its effects on the brain, marijuana smoke has other health effects. People who smoke marijuana daily or near-daily may have a persistent cough, bronchitis, mucus and wheezing. Marijuana smoke contains the same cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco smoke. Heavy marijuana smoking is strongly associated with tissue damage in the airways of your lungs.

    • Marijuana can also affect athletic performance and coordination. THC can interfere with reaction time and how someone experiences time and space. Using marijuana in any form will likely impair a teen’s ability to drive, play sports or do other activities they enjoy.


In Jefferson County, youth report that most marijuana is purchased from someone old enough to buy or grow it; though many youths also say they take it without permission from an adult who lives with them (2018 Youth Town Hall).


Even though there is no perfect way to talk with your teens about alcohol, marijuana, prescription medications and other drugs, having honest and repeated conversations has a big influence on your teen -- even if it seems like they’re not listening. 

Learn how marijuana affects the brain. (2:55)

How to start a conversation

  • Open ended questions are a good way to start a conversation. For example:

    • What worries you about marijuana use in terms of addiction or messing with brain development?

    • How do you handle it when (or how would you handle it if) you see marijuana being used by teens your age?


  • When you see an ad for marijuana or go past a marijuana store, use it as an opportunity to ask questions: "What do you think about marijuana?” “What do you see at your school in terms of marijuana?” 


  • Bring up that, while most high school students in Jefferson County don't use marijuana (according to answers on an anonymous survey), quite a few do. Questions you might ask include: “What is your take on that?” “Why are kids using it?” 


  • Talk with them about how marijuana is bought and sold, and about their thoughts on the ethics of youth helping distribute illegal substances.


  • Or start a conversation by asking what they think after you watch a video about marijuana together. A good video on the topic is Marijuana and the Young Brain from the Director of Neuroscience at the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. 

Quick tips

  • Assume your student has been exposed to marijuana and approach conversations with that assumption. However, don't accept marijuana use as inevitable or something to ignore.


  • Words related to marijuana change all the time. Here are a few to know:

    • Plug: A person who sells alcohol, drugs or other things to people they know, often through social media

    • Dab: Taking a dab means inhaling the vapors from a concentrated form of marijuana made by an extraction method that uses butane gas. Dabs, also known as butane hash oil (BHO) — and sometimes called "budder," "honeycomb" or "earwax" — are more potent than conventional forms of marijuana because they have much higher concentrations of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, than is found in regular marijuana. 

    • K2, Spice, Fake Weed: A mixture of plant material sprayed with a synthetic compound that is similar to THC. 


  • It's a good idea to let your youth know your values around dealers, or "plugs," selling harmful substances to other teens.

  • Want to practice the conversation before you have it? Try out this conversation simulator from Be The Influence.

Things to Do

  • Know where your teen is and who they are with when they are not at home. 

  • If adults in your home use marijuana, make an agreement that they will never provide marijuana to those under 21. 

  • Keep alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs and firearms in a locked cabinet or in locked room in your home. Track the amount kept in the home and let your teens know you keep track of it. Even if your teen would never take these items without permission, locking them prevents your teen's friends, younger children, visitors to your home and pets from accessing them.

  • Teen marijuana use often occurs at house parties. If you go out of town, take these steps to prevent a "house party" from occurring at your home.



Recommended Resource

Navigating Substance Experimentation in Teens Free Parent Workshop

  This free, temporarily online, workshop provides strategies, information and resources for parents or guardians whose teen has been caught using vape, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or taking someone else's prescription medication. The workshop is led by professionals in teen substance use prevention and takes place at Jefferson County Public Health in Lakewood on the 1st Wednesday of each month from 6-8 PM. The class is free.

Register here.

Other Recommended Resources

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This project was created by the Jefferson County Communities That Care coalition and is housed within Jefferson County Public HealthThis resource was developed with funding from a Communities That Care grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, a grant from Community First Foundation and a Drug-Free Communities grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The views, policies and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the grant providers.