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Teen Use of Cannabis Associated with Faster Rate of Addiction

by Will Long

March 11, 2022
teens cannabis

With marijuana laws nationwide relaxing, the issue of teen marijuana abuse is now more pressing than ever. As marijuana becomes more socially acceptable and legalized recreationally in many states, we can learn more about the drug and its effects on young minds. The more we discover, the clearer it becomes that cannabis holds the possibility of being addictive. It appears substance use disorders may develop more rapidly in younger users.

Cannabis Use Disorder

For many years, experts have vigorously debated whether cannabis is addictive or not. Recent research shows that up to 10% of marijuana users develop some form of marijuana use disorder. More than 2% of American adults have experienced marijuana use disorder in the previous year, according to a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism study. More than 6% satisfied the criteria for marijuana use disorder at some point.

It’s sobering to see that at least 1 in 15 marijuana users could become addicted. Among those who started using marijuana under the age of 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

Cannabis withdrawal symptoms typically peak a week after quitting. Dependence develops as the brain adapts 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 and can experience a battery of negative outcomes.

Approximately 9% of marijuana users will become dependent, although this jumps to 17% among those who started smoking marijuana as teens, according to this 2015 data. One ongoing issue with substance abuse studies is the way addiction and dependence are often used interchangeably. From the viewpoint of some experts, it’s possible to become dependent on marijuana without being addicted. Across the United States, roughly four million people satisfy the criteria for marijuana use disorder. Of these people, 138,000 voluntarily engaged in treatment for marijuana use.

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

A recent analysis from the National Institutes of Health explores the prevalence of the following nine substance use disorders:

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

Led by National Institute on Drug Abuse researchers, the study draws on data from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health from 2015 through 2018. Participants were divided into adolescents (12-17) and young adults (18-25). Four 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 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 three 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, 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.

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.

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About the Author

Will Long

Will Long

A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Long has been a writer for Landmark Recovery since 2021. He specializes in research and writing about substance abuse from a scientific and social perspective. Unearthing information from underexplored, far-flung corners of the Internet, Long’s passion is finding emerging trends in substance use and treatment that the public should know about.