When it comes to drug use among teens, marijuana is probably the most commonly chosen drug. It’s affordable and readily accessible to teenagers, and as the laws and cultural mores around marijuana use continue to change, more and more teenagers begin to see it as an option for them. For parents, it’s important to know whether or not your teen smokes pot. But how can you tell? Take a look at some of the signs that your teen may be using marijuana.
A Teen Who Smokes Pot May Have a Distinct Smell
Marijuana has a very distinctive herbal smell that tends to cling to clothes and hair. Parents who have smelled it before are liable to recognize it for what it is. However, marijuana smokers sometimes go to great lengths to mask the smell with incense, colognes, or perfumes, so if your teen is wearing an unusually heavy amount of some other scent, that can also be a clue.
While the smell is definitely a clue, it’s not necessarily a smoking gun, and it’s important not to overreact. Not every teen smokes pot, but even teens that don’t smoke marijuana are probably going to encounter teens that do smoke it, and even nonsmokers can pick up the scent when they’re in the same room with it. It’s possible that a teen who comes home smelling like marijuana has been in a room with other teens smoking pot, but has refused it themselves. That may mean it’s a good time for a conversation about resisting peer pressure, not a reason to ground your teen for a month.
In short, the smell of marijuana, or a perfumed smell that seems to be masking another underlying scent, is cause for further investigation. However, you still shouldn’t jump to conclusions.
Signs of Intoxication
The effects of marijuana can last for some time, and new users especially aren’t always good at judging how long it will be before the effects wear off. This means that even if they’re trying to hide it by smoking elsewhere, they may be under the influence when they come home.
Teens under the influence of marijuana may be unusually talkative or giggly. Marijuana tends to produce dry mouth (or “cotton mouth”) in users, so an unusual level of thirst can also be a tip off. Marijuana also boosts appetite, so a teen who seems to be snacking more than usual could be high. However, it’s important to remember that teens often have big appetites and are also prone to growth spurts that spur them to eat more than usual, so a big appetite is not necessarily a sign of drug use.
Some marijuana users become paranoid and anxious instead of gregarious and easily amused. If your teen seems withdrawn, jumpy, and nervous, these moods might be cause for concern. Lethargy and fatigue can also be warning signs – teens who have been smoking pot may seem to have no energy, or they sleep for long periods of time.
Possession of Paraphernalia
Smoking marijuana requires some accessories. Rolling papers, roach clips, pipes, and bongs are all associated with marijuana use. And in most cases, teens who have gone to the extent of acquiring these items to keep for themselves have moved past the point of just trying marijuana at a party or when offered by a friend. While you may not want your teen experimenting with drugs at all, there is a difference between a teen who tried pot once because someone else made it available and a teen who has purchased paraphernalia with the intent of using it repeatedly in the future.
Another common item that parents may find in a teen’s room or backpack that could indicate marijuana use is a bottle of eye drops. Eye drops are a less conclusive clue than rolling papers – your teen could be using them to treat symptoms of seasonal allergies, relieve eye irritation after swimming in a chlorinated pool, or keep their eyes moist while wearing contacts.
But if you know that your teen doesn’t wear contacts, suffer from allergies, or swim frequently, there are relatively few reasons why a teenager with healthy eyes would need to use eye drops often enough to keep them in their purse or school bag. However, some marijuana users do develop bloodshot eyes when under the influence, and eye drops are a common remedy. Therefore, while finding a bottle of Visine may not be conclusive proof your teen smokes pot, it does merit additional questions.
Avoiding Drug Tests Could Indicate Your Teen Smokes Pot
For obvious reasons, failing a drug test is usually a good sign that a teen is using drugs (although there are exceptions and drug tests can be inaccurate). But teenagers are aware of drug tests and how and when they’re used, and it’s easy enough for teens to find out how long marijuana or other drugs will stay in their system and show up on a drug test. Most teens aren’t going to voluntarily submit themselves to a drug test if they know or suspect they’re going to fail it and get into trouble for it. This means that avoidance of drug tests may be a sign of drug use.
How can you tell if your teen is avoiding a drug test? Some schools drug test teens who participate in extracurricular activities like sports. Teens who want to work after-school jobs or summer jobs may find that potential employers ask them to submit to a drug test, but not all employers do. If your teen suddenly decides they aren’t interested in participating in an extracurricular that they previously expressed interest in, or if they are interested in having a job and motivated to apply, but then pass on seemingly good opportunities, it could be that they were asked to take a drug test and are avoiding doing so.
A teen who smokes pot may also avoid routine physicals or even visits to the doctor when they’re actually ill or injured out of fear that they may be drug tested as part of an exam. In most cases, your teen’s doctor wouldn’t routinely drug test a teen without a history of drug use or some other cause for concern, and most doctors also wouldn’t administer a drug test without informing the teen that they’re being tested. However, it’s not uncommon for teens to believe that they may be secretly drug tested by the doctor – perhaps at a parent’s request – and so they may avoid doctors anyway.
Parents who notice signs of marijuana use, especially if there are multiple signs combined with worrying or unexplained changes in habits or behavior, should trust their instincts. Addressing potential drug use head-on is the best way to keep the problem from growing.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.