Top Ten Teen Toking Tip-Offs

By Laura Stack

Is your teenager using marijuana? In this era of easy access to weed, that’s an important question.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) just released the 2019 Annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the most comprehensive survey on drug use. Out of children ages 12 to 17, 17.2 percent say they used marijuana in the past year (in states like Colorado, it’s even higher). Among young adults aged 18 to 25, past year marijuana users increased from 29.8 percent (or 9.2 million people) in 2002 to 35.4 percent (or 12.0 million people) in 2019. Sadly, in 2019, approximately 699,000 youth aged 12-17 have an addiction to marijuana, representing 187,000 new youth with a Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) in 2019 versus 2018.

Our children are good people. However, the changing—and inaccurate—views about marijuana’s relative harmlessness may tempt them to give in to peer pressure and try it. If your child becomes a regular user, you might think it would be obvious—but that’s not necessarily so. It is pretty easy for your teen to hide it from you.

In this article, we present ten True-or-False statements covering some of the most likely tip-offs that your teen is using marijuana, followed by the answers.

True or False?

  1. If my teen were using marijuana, I’d be able to smell it.
  2. My teen often has red, bloodshot eyes and uses eye drops frequently, which could indicate marijuana use.
  3. My teen has suddenly changed his circle of friends, but this can’t signal possible marijuana use.
  4. If my teen is vomiting a lot, it can be a sign of marijuana use.
  5. My teen is more lethargic and is sleeping more than usual, which could signal marijuana use.
  6. I found hollowed-out cigars and burned nails in my son’s backpack, which seems odd but can’t be related to marijuana use.
  7. If my teen’s grades have started to plunge, marijuana could be the culprit.
  8. My teen seems to be anxious and depressed, but that’s just normal teen behavior, not a sign of marijuana use.
  9. My teen is saying some strange things about her phone being bugged; this sudden paranoia can indicate marijuana use.
  10. I’m not worried about my daughter, because teen girls rarely use marijuana.


  1. FALSE. While smoked marijuana does have a distinctive, skunky smell, vaped marijuana, whether in oil or solid form, often has little or no smell. Not only won’t it waft through the house, you won’t smell it on your teen’s breath and clothes. Similarly, dabbing high-THC concentrates like wax or shatter produces a much milder smell that a user can easily dissipate in a well-ventilated place. A smoke filter can also cover up most of the smell, and it’s easy to make a “sploof,” a handmade filter, from a cardboard tube and a dryer sheet. A room deodorizer or incense can also effectively mask the smell of marijuana, and your teen may wear more perfume or cologne than normal.
  2. TRUE. Marijuana users often have very bloodshot eyes because marijuana is a vasodilator. It lowers your blood pressure, which causes the capillaries in your eyes to relax and increases the blood flow to those vessels. To counter this effect, users often use eye drops specially formulated for redness, which decreases the size of the capillaries in the eyes to make the bloodshot appearance go away. If you note your teen using a lot of eye drops for no apparent reason, or you find bottles of eye drops and don’t know why, he or she may be using marijuana.
  3. FALSE. Your teen suddenly changing a circle of friends may signal marijuana use. If his friends all use drugs, or old friends who don’t do drugs no longer associate with your teen, that’s another red flag.
  4. TRUE. Marijuana toxicity is unexplained nausea and vomiting, increased blood pressure, fast heartbeat, anxiety, panic, paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, and extreme confusion. If your child is vomiting frequently and taking a lot of hot showers, it may be a sign of Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome and requires medical treatment. A teen user may also act giddy or “out of it” for no obvious reason or let their personal hygiene go.
  5. TRUE. Marijuana is known to make users become more lethargic. This may manifest as them no longer taking an interest in activities they once enjoyed. Sudden changes in behavior is a classic sign of drug use. If your child suddenly becomes overly tired, combative, secretive, uncommunicative, or loses interest in once-favorite activities, then investigate further.
  6. FALSE. Having paraphernalia around the house (and possibly blaming a friend) is a sign of marijuana use. Those hollowed-out cigars you found in your kid’s backpacks are used for smoking pot. Users call them blunts. They pack then with herb marijuana and smoke them like regular cigars. They contain a lot more marijuana than a joint and can be very potent. If your child has been hiding burned nails, they’re probably dabbing. This highly dangerous form of marijuana use involves inhaling the smoke from burned high-THC concentrates like shatter, budder, and wax. Using nails to hold the marijuana and a lighter to burn it is a simple form of dabbing, though there are “rigs” and pens made specifically for dabbing.
  7. TRUE. Teen marijuana users often lose interest in school and may start to skip classes or whole days. It takes a lot of time to be involved in marijuana. They also stop studying, which is reflected in poor grades. Long term, it can lead to a permanent drop in IQ. Like my son Johnny, some users can still function well enough to get by. There are other factors that could cause a drop in academic performance, from emotional distress to physical and psychological problems, but you’ll definitely want to question marijuana use as well.
  8. FALSE. Your teen may tell you he or she is using marijuana to “chill out” or as “medicine” for anxiety and depression. However, there’s solid scientific evidence that marijuana can cause or worsen these conditions. Marijuana use can definitely trigger depression, and regular users have twice the normal risk for it. It can also trigger anxiety or heighten existing anxiety. Meanwhile, anxiety may increase between uses, and anxiety attacks may occur while using.
  9. TRUE Among other things, marijuana can cause psychosis, paranoia, schizophrenia, and suicidal tendencies and thoughts. If you notice any such behavior, investigate it further (or get immediate medical attention if suicidal intent is expressed), because it may be caused by marijuana use.
  10. FALSE. Although it’s true that fewer females use marijuana than males, marijuana does not respect gender. Some argue females aren’t as comfortable with marijuana use as males, or males are just more adventurous or more likely to do dangerous things. The truth: according to the 2014 and 2018 National Surveys of Drug Use, those who had used in the last month and last year were, on average, 39-43% female. That’s not much of a minority; girls use marijuana almost as often as boys.

The Upshot

How well did you do?

Marijuana is a much more dangerous drug than many people realize. If you think your teen may be using marijuana, review the above questions and answers closely. You may discover it’s easier for kids to slip by with their marijuana use than you ever imagined.

And remember this: today’s pot isn’t the weak grass you may have tried in college. These days, the THC-content in marijuana products is much higher than ever, due to selective breeding of marijuana plants, and deliberate concentration in some products, which is a new class of drugs. Today’s marijuana can be deadly.

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