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Younger Use of Marijuana Associated with Faster Rate of Addiction


With marijuana laws nationwide relaxing, the issue of teen marijuana abuse is now more pressing than ever.


As weed becomes more socially acceptable and legalized recreationally in many states, we can learn more about the drug and its effects. The more we discover, the clearer it becomes that weed can be addictive. And, as we’ll also highlight today, substance use disorders develop more rapidly in younger users.


Marijuana Use Disorder

For many years, experts have vigorously debated whether or not weed is addictive. Recent research shows that up to 30% of marijuana users develop some form of marijuana use disorder. According to a 2016 NIAAA study, 2.5% of adult Americans have experienced marijuana use disorder in the previous year. 6.3% satisfied criteria for marijuana use disorder at some point.


It’s sobering to see that 1 in 15 marijuana users could become addicted. Among those who started using weed aged under 18, the risk of developing marijuana use disorder is 4 to 7 times higher.


When someone develops marijuana use disorder, this is often associated with dependence on the drug. Once dependent on marijuana, withdrawal symptoms manifest when use is discontinued, including:

  • Cravings for marijuana
  • Decreased appetite
  • Depression
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Irritability
  • Mood changes
  • Restlessness


Weed withdrawal symptoms typically peak a week after quitting, often lasting for a fortnight.


Dependence occurs with the brain adapting to increasingly large amounts of marijuana by reducing the production of endocannabinoid neurotransmitters to compensate. Also, the sensitivity of these neurotransmitters changes.


In the event of marijuana use disorder, you’ll be unable to stop using the drug in spite of a battery of negative outcomes.


Based on 2015 data, 9% of marijuana users will become dependent, although this rises to 17% among those who started smoking weed as teens. One ongoing issue with substance abuse studies is the way addiction and dependence are often used interchangeably. In reality, it’s possible to become dependent on marijuana without being addicted.


Across the United States, roughly 4 million people satisfy the criteria for marijuana use disorder. Of these people, 138,000 voluntarily engaged in treatment for marijuana use


We’ll look next at a new study shining a light on the relevance of age of drug use relative to SUDs.


New Teen Marijuana Use Study Shows Faster Rate of Addiction Among Youths

A recent NIH analysis explores the prevalence of the following 9 substance use disorders:

  • Alcohol
  • Cannabis
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Meth
  • Prescription medications (opioids, tranquilizers, and stimulants)
  • Tobacco


Led by NIDA researchers, the study draws on data from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health from 2015 through 2018.


Participants were divided into the following groups:

  • Adolescents (12-17)
  • Young adults (18-25)


4 distinct time points were used to analyze whether substance use disorders were present since first drug use:

  • Less than 12 months
  • 12 through 24 months
  • 24 through 36 months
  • More than 36 months


The most commonly used substances were unsurprising: alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. Among adolescents, 26.3% reported lifetime use of alcohol, 15.4% of cannabis, and 13.4% of tobacco. Among young adults, the lifetime use reported for alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco was 79.7%, 51,5%, and 55% respectively.


Researchers noted that substance abuse disorders within a year of using marijuana were more prevalent among adolescents than young adults aged 18 to 25. After 3 years, 20.1% of young adults had developed marijuana disorder, set against just 10.9% of young adults. This shows a link between a swifter transition to SUDs and a young age of initiation.


It’s possible to draw similar conclusions from individuals using heroin and meth.


Across the board, then, it seems that young people are acutely vulnerable to developing substance use disorders. Researchers commented on this vulnerability, while also underscoring the need for substance misuse screening among adults.


We can see that the war on drugs and a punitive stance against marijuana has roundly failed, so what lies ahead? Well, more research on the heightened risks of marijuana use disorder in young users will allow us to better educate teens based on facts not alarmism.


What Comes Next

If you’re concerned about teen marijuana use, there’s no substitute for being open and honest with your kids about all aspects of drug use. Beyond this, if you feel your teen is using marijuana to the extent of dependence and addiction, don’t allow the issue to fester unchecked.

Instead, reach out to the friendly team at Landmark Recovery and we’ll help you get your teen back on track with the right personalized treatment program. To get things started, call us today at 888-448-0302.

About the Author


Landmark Recovery Staff

This post was written by a Landmark Recovery staff member. If you have any questions, please contact us at 888-448-0302.

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