Teen Marijuana Use or Addiction?

Marijuana use among teens is on the rise. R&A Therapeutic Partners recently released this interesting article about the effects of teen marijuana use.

Marijuana has often been thought of as a harmless drug that does not lead to addiction. However, many recent research studies have determined that not only is cannabis addictive, but the teen marijuana addiction rate is a serious concern. One study in particular found that adolescents are especially vulnerable to addiction, emphasizing the need for early screening and treatment.

Prevalence Of Teen Marijuana Addiction

Researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently examined data collected from 2015 to 2018 to determine the prevalence of specific substance use disorders among adolescents, teenagers, and young adults. Specifically, the team’s goal was to determine the rate of addiction after the first use of drugs, including cannabis, tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, and after the first incidence of misusing drugs such as opioids. They reviewed data for adolescents and teenagers aged 12 to 17 and for young adults aged 18 to 25.

The prevalence of lifetime substance use among the adolescent group in 2018 was 15.4% for cannabis, 26,3% of alcohol, and 13.4% for tobacco. In contrast, the prevalence of lifetime substance use for the young adult group was 51.5% for cannabis, 79.7% for alcohol, and 55.0% for tobacco. However, there was a higher prevalence of substance use disorders within 12 months of cannabis use among adolescents and teenagers than among young adults, which was consistent with the younger age being associated with a faster transition to addiction for cannabis as well as for prescription misuse.

The researchers found that 10.7% of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 were addicted after one year of cannabis use. After 36 months of cannabis use, 20.1% of the study participants in this age group met the criteria for addiction. Among the young adult group, 6.4% were addicted to cannabis within 12 months and 10.9% after 36 months.

Impact On The Developing Teenage Brain

Teen marijuana addiction is more concerning than may have been previously evident, as shown by the results of these and other studies. Particularly as the teenage brain is still developing, cannabis may have a significant impact on its growth and development, potentially causing long-term or possibly permanent adverse changes in the brain, according to the NIDA.

Some studies have suggested that regular marijuana use in teenagers is associated with altered connectivity and reduced volume of specific brain regions involved in a broad range of executive functions. Teen marijuana use has been known to impact areas of the brain such as memory, learning, and impulse control. In addition. there is growing evidence that regular use of marijuana can lease to increased mental illness among teens and young adults, including higher incidence of psychotic disorders. 

Marijuana As An Addictive Drug

Many other studies have shown that marijuana use does, indeed, lead to a substance use disorder and addictive behaviors. In fact, some research suggests that 30% of people who use marijuana may have a substance use disorder. According to these studies, individuals who begin using marijuana as a teenager, before the age of 18, are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults. The results of all of these research studies on teen marijuana addiction underscore the vulnerability of adolescents and the importance of early screening for substance misuse among young people.

Increased Potency Leads To Worse Consequences

In addition to the increased addiction rate among adolescents and teenagers, studies have shown that exposure to THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, is associated with an altered reward system, which increases the probably of seeking out other drugs such as opioids. The potency of the THC in marijuana has steadily increased over the past few decades, which could lead to a higher level of addiction and potentially more serious health effects from marijuana and other drug use. In the early 1990s, the average THC content in marijuana was 4%. In 2018, it had increased to more than 15%. This increased potency, combined with the use of high-THC concerns, could lead to much worse consequences among marijuana users, particularly among adolescents and teenagers whose brains are still developing. Questions remain about the full extent of the consequences and whether the recent increases in emergency department visits for marijuana misuse might be related to the increased potency levels.

If you have a loved one struggling with marijuana usage, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

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