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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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Doug Menuez/Photodisc/Getty Images

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.  

Drug Tests

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.

What to Expect from Marijuana Withdrawal

Attitudes have changed toward marijuana in recent years. Many states have legalized the use of both medicinal and recreational marijuana, and more states may join in the future. Because of this, the misconception that marijuana is not addictive continues to spread. The truth is marijuana can be addictive, and if you stop using it, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 10 Americans who use cannabis will become addicted. That number jumps to 1 in 6 if you begin using marijuana before the age of 18.

Smoking marijuana a handful of times may not be enough to cause symptoms when you no longer use it. For people who smoke marijuana regularly, it may be a different story. Withdrawing from regular marijuana use can lead to symptoms that include trouble sleeping, mood swings, and sleep disturbances.

Symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include:

  • diminished appetite
  • mood changes
  • irritability
  • sleep difficulties, including insomnia
  • headaches
  • loss of focus
  • cravings for marijuana
  • sweating, including cold sweats
  • chills
  • increased feelings of depression
  • stomach problems

These symptoms can range from mild to more severe, and they vary from person to person. These symptoms may not be severe or dangerous, but they can be unpleasant. The longer you used marijuana, the more likely you are to experience withdrawal symptoms.

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms may not be as severe as withdrawal symptoms from other substances. Opioids, alcohol, cocaine, and heroin can produce severe, even dangerous, withdrawal issues. Still, many people who stop using marijuana do experience physical and psychological symptoms.

That’s because your body has to adjust to not having a regular supply of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. When you regularly smoke marijuana, your brain develops a tolerance for it.

The more you smoke, the more your brain depends on this supply of THC. When you stop, your brain has to adjust to not having it. As your body becomes accustomed to this new normal, you may experience unpleasant symptoms. These are symptoms of withdrawal. In some cases, these symptoms can be so troublesome people choose to begin smoking again to get a reprieve.

If you’re ready to quit, talk with a doctor or a substance abuse specialist about your options. You may not need any special instructions, but it’s always a good idea to consult someone about your decision. If nothing else, this person can be a good source of inspiration and accountability.

If you smoked regularly and often, tapering off and slowly reducing your marijuana use may help you ease into a marijuana-free life. If you only smoked occasionally, you may be able to stop entirely without any step-down.

When you’re ready to quit, take these self-help steps to make the initial withdrawal period of 24 to 72 hours easier.

  • Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water and avoid sugary, caffeinated beverages like soda.
  • Eat healthy foods. Fuel your body with a generous supply of fresh fruit, vegetables, and lean protein. Avoid junk food, which can make you feel sluggish and irritable.
  • Exercise every day. Squeeze in at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. This provides a natural mood boost, and it can help remove toxins as you sweat.
  • Find support. Surround yourself with friends, family members, and others who can help you through any withdrawal symptoms you may experience.

Most people will not need professional help to quit marijuana. However, in some cases you may be better able to quit and stick with quitting if you have guidance and medical assistance.

These resources may be helpful:

Detoxification center

These short-term programs are designed to help people get through the initial drug-free phase. They provide assistance and medical attention as you manage the symptoms of withdrawal.

Inpatient rehabilitation center

These medical facilities are designed to assist people for more than 25 days. These facilities help a person stop using drugs, including marijuana, and then manage the underlying issues that led to drug use and may lead to relapse if not dealt with correctly. These are also helpful for people dealing with multiple addictions at once, such as alcohol abuse and marijuana abuse.

Intensive outpatient programs

Outpatient rehabilitation programs often require multiple meetings or sessions each week with a therapist, substance abuse expert, or other mental health specialist. However, you’re not required to check into a facility, and you’re free to come and go on your own.

Support groups and therapy

One-on-one therapy may be useful as you cope with the underlying issues that lead to drug use. Likewise, connecting with people who face many of the same scenarios and questions as you in a support group can be a good way to find accountability and support during this next phase of your life.

Despite misconceptions, marijuana can be addictive. Learn what to expect from marijuana withdrawal.