At What Age Do Children Generally Start Smoking Pot?
Andrea Rice is an award-winning journalist and a freelance writer, editor, and fact checker specializing in health and wellness.
A hallmark of being a teen is the drive to experiment and push boundaries. Sometimes, that means trying drugs. When it comes to marijuana, on average, kids who smoke pot tend to start between the ages of 12 and 16.
Smoking Pot by the Numbers
It isn’t surprising that many teens try pot as it is popularly considered less dangerous than “harder” drugs (like cocaine or heroin), and marijuana is used recreationally by many adults. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that pot is one of the most commonly used drugs by Americans. And according to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 2.5% of the world’s population uses the substance.
So how many teens are smoking pot? The National Institute of Drug Abuse study, Monitoring the Future, found that 6.6% of eighth-graders had smoked marijuana or hashish in the past month, while 11.8% had smoked in the past year. By 10th grade, those numbers jump to 18.4% and 28.8%, respectfully. By senior year, 22.3% reported marijuana use in the past month, while 35.7% had smoked pot in the past year.
According to a 2018 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) study, about 3.1 million teens, aged 12 to 17, which adds up to 12.5% of all teens (or 1 in 8 teens), had smoked pot in the prior year. These numbers have held steady over the past few years.
The Influence of Others
The marked increase in use between 8th and 10th grade teens (from nearly 12% to almost 30%) is significant, because research tells us that peer usage is one of the main reasons that teens begin to smoke marijuana. Teens who have siblings, other relatives, or friends who do drugs are more likely to try drugs themselves than adolescents who do not have drug-using friends.
The transition between middle school and high school also leads to new disruptions and stressors for kids that can make drug experimentation more likely. These changes include new schools, new friends, new pressures, the desire to fit in, and different expectations.
The influence that others have on teen substance use is not limited to their peers in school. Teens whose parents drink, smoke cigarettes, or smoke marijuana are also more likely to try those behaviors.
Availability of Pot Is a Key Factor
Children who live in neighborhoods where drugs are sold openly or who go to schools where their peers sell drugs are significantly more likely to begin smoking pot at an earlier age. Researchers have also found that if teens believe that their peers approve of drug use, they will be more likely to use drugs themselves at an early age. This is because that positive perception tends to “normalize” recreational drug use.
Additionally, many states have now made recreational marijuana use legal for those 21 and over, making use among adults (as well as the many pot storefronts and ads) much more noticeable, which garners unspoken acceptability.
A double-whammy of cultural permissiveness and easy access to drugs also contribute to earlier initiation ages and a larger proportion of kids using drugs.
Other Reasons Kids Use Drugs
In his book, How to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do If You Can’t, Dr. Neil I. Bernstein identifies more reasons, beyond mere availability, peer pressure, and acceptability, that kids try drugs and alcohol:
- Popular media
- Escape and self-medication
- Instant gratification
- Lack of confidence
Consequences of Early-Onset Drug Use
Experts—and even many marijuana legalization proponents—agree that the later teens begin using marijuana, the better. This is because teenage brains are still developing, a process that isn’t complete until around age 25. Smoking pot before all the brain’s pathways have matured can inhibit the development of executive function. The earlier kids begin to smoke pot, the more likely they are to experience cognitive problems.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, children who engaged in weekly marijuana use before age 18 displayed lasting harm to their intelligence, attention, and memory compared with those who began using marijuana after age 18.
Research has suggested that quitting or reducing marijuana use was not able to restore cognitive function that was damaged by regular marijuana use.
What’s more, a comprehensive review during 2011 found that people who started smoking pot before adulthood experienced significant damage to their cognitive function, impacting many areas including memory, response time, language skills, and executive function.
Additionally, studies have shown a strong link between marijuana use and the development of psychological conditions. Research has also confirmed that, despite popular opinion, smoking pot can be addictive.
A Word From Verywell
While the numbers on teen pot use may seem unsettling, it’s important to note that the majority of kids aren’t smoking marijuana. But if your child is experimenting, don’t despair. While the health risks of sustained pot use, particularly early in life, are substantial, if your child tries it once, twice, or even occasionally, the damage is likely minimal—though studies have shown that even occasional use can still potentially impair decision-making, concentration, attention, and memory.
The key is to talk to your child. Discuss your concerns and the very real brain health risks—and listen to what they have to say. If you feel the situation requires additional intervention, consult with your child’s doctor, a drug counselor, or other experts to access resources that can help.
On average, kids start smoking pot at age 16, but recent surveys point to the transition between middle school and high school as an inflection point.
12 celebrities who have talked about smoking weed
Many stars have a lot to say about weed — whether they’re speaking about legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana or simply sharing how smoking it impacts their life.
Here are some celebrities who have spoken about smoking weed:
Lady Gaga has said smoking weed helps manage the physical and emotional stress of stardom.
In her 2017 Netflix documentary, “Gaga: Five Foot Two,” Lady Gaga said marijuana helps her manage the chronic pain she experiences from fibromyalgia — a muscular disorder that can lead to pain, fatigue, and mood issues.
She said that it helps her cope with the stress that can come with a life in the spotlight, too.
According to Lifeline Live, on a 2011 episode of “60 Minutes,” she said that she also smokes weed when she writes music to help stimulate her creative process.
“I smoke a lot of pot when I write music. So I’m not gonna, like, sugar coat it for ’60 Minutes’ that, you know, I’m some, like, sober human being ’cause I’m not,” she said.
But according to People, Gaga mentioned in a 2013 radio interview that the pressure to constantly create great music led her to rely on weed a little too much. She said that, at one point in her life, she was addicted to marijuana.
“I was living on a totally other psychedelic plane, numbing myself completely, and looking back I do see now that some of it had to do with my hip pain. I didn’t know where the pain was coming from so I was just in a lot of pain and very depressed all the time and not really sure why,” she said.
Snoop Dogg said that Willie Nelson once out-smoked him.
It’s no secret that Snoop Dogg likes weed. In fact, getting high is a consistent theme in many of the rapper’s lyrics.
Although many people have tried to go toe-to-toe with Snoop, he told Vibe in 2017 that only country star Willie Nelson has been able to out-smoke him.
“None of my kids drink, but smoke … responsibly,” he said. “I try to be an example, try not to be hypocritical. How can I tell them not to when I do? It’s just the way that I do, I do it very respectfully.”
Willie Nelson has maintained his pot-loving image for years.
Country superstar Willie Nelson is probably one of the most famous weed-smoking celebrities.
In a 2019 interview with Rolling Stone, Nelson said that smoking weed saved his life.
“I wouldn’t be alive. It saved my life, really. I wouldn’t have lived 85 years if I’d have kept drinking and smoking like I was when I was 30, 40 years old,” he said. “I think that weed kept me from wanting to kill people. And probably kept a lot of people from wanting to kill me, too.”
Willie capitalized on his image as a “legendary stoner” with Willie’s Remedy, his personal line of cannabis products including coffees and teas that are infused with hemp oil.
Sarah Silverman said Seth Rogen told her that she was the first celebrity he ever smoked pot with.
Comedian Sarah Silverman has made her love of marijuana known to her fans. She even gave TV host Giuliana Rancic a peek at her weed vape pen during a 2014 red-carpet interview for the Emmys.
In a 2015 interview with BuzzFeed, Silverman said she was the first celebrity Seth Rogen ever smoked weed with.
“Seth Rogen told me that I was the first famous person he ever smoked pot with. Which I have no recollection of, needless to say. But I was very honored,” she said.
On a 2015 episode of “Conan,” she also talked about getting high with her parents.
Rogen has brought his own experience into his stoner roles.
Rogen has played a stoner in films like “Knocked Up” (2007) and “Pineapple Express” (2008), but he’s also been outspoken about his marijuana usage in real life.
Rogen said he often smokes while writing, and he told MTV News in 2011 that weed helps make the daily grind a lot more manageable.
“I don’t know if it helps me write. It makes me not mind that I’m writing. And I don’t know if it makes me work better, but it makes me not care that I’m working,” he said. “Who wants to work? But if you’re stoned, it doesn’t seem like work.”
In a 2019 interview with Stephen Colbert, Rogen even admitted to being high “all day every day,” including while he’s filming.
“Saturday Night Live” star Pete Davidson says he smokes weed to manage some of his health-related issues.
According to People, in 2018 Pete Davidson told Howard Stern that his marijuana use has helped him manage the symptoms of his borderline personality disorder and Crohn’s disease.
“There was a point where I couldn’t get out of bed. I was 110 pounds,” Davidson said talking about the effects of Crohn’s disease. “I also just love smoking weed.”
He continued saying, “I’ve been smoking weed every day for eight years.”
Melissa Etheridge said smoking weed helped her through her breast-cancer treatments.
Singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge said she started using marijuana medicinally after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004.
Etheridge told Billboard that smoking helped her recover during cancer treatments.
“My stress level and all the things I felt contributed to my cancer 12 years ago, I absolutely treat them everyday by smoking cannabis and keeping a balance in my life,” she said.
In the summer of 2019, she acquired the non-retail license necessary to open a cannabis manufacturing and processing facility called Etheridge Farms Cannabis.
She’s hoping to target first-time users and middle-aged women with her products.
“I’ve got a keen direction toward middle-aged women who are discovering, ‘Hey, I don’t want to take an Ambien every night. I don’t want to have to drink wine every night to relax, because I know those things aren’t good for my body,'” she said, according to Daily Democrat.
Many stars, from Lady Gaga to Pete Davidson, have been open about why they smoke weed and how often they do so.