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Teen Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana is among the most commonly used and abused drugs among teens because many believe it's not addictive. But research proves otherwise. If marijuana is destroying your child's life, it's time to step in.

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13 min read

Why Is Marijuana Use Dangerous?

Since really hitting the scene in the 1950s, marijuana has long been considered the quintessential gateway drug. A 2012 study showed that 13% of people with a marijuana use disorder began smoking the drug by the time they were 14. More than half of new drug users begin with marijuana, and more than ever — by a large margin — young people are smoking pot. Use in America has doubled in the last decade — 36% of 12th graders and 12% of 8th graders report using it at least once in the last year.

The stats regarding teen alcohol abuse often pale in comparison to marijuana use in the same group; marijuana is often the first addictive substance kids will try. The reality is that at some point in college or high school — or even middle school — your teen is likely to be offered marijuana. It’s becoming more accepted each day — you can buy it in retail shops in Colorado and Washington D.C., with more states likely on the way.

teen marijuana use statistics infographic

In recent years, there appears to be a risk of desensitization regarding the actual dangers of marijuana use. Those who smoke it — because “everyone else is doing it” — may underestimate the effects of the high, which can greatly impair reaction time and motor skills. Aside from alcohol, marijuana is the main drug involved in fatal car accidents — it contributed to 12% of fatal crashes in 2014, three times the number it caused in 1999.

The Rise of Synthetic Marijuana

Also referred to as K2 and spice, synthetic marijuana looks like harmless dried marijuana leaves and it’s often marketed as safe and legal alternatives to the drug. But the reality is that synthetic marijuana abuse is far more risky and its effects are far too unpredictable to compare to natural marijuana abuse.

Chemists go to laboratories to cook up artificial versions of cannabinoids — a family of psychoactive substances found in Cannabis sativa — which are then sprayed on dried plants and other materials. The reason why the artificial strain is more dangerous is because its ingredients and concentrations are constantly being modified before they’re released to the streets in bulk. Even minor changes in the chemical structure of a cannabinoid can dramatically alter and amplify its effects.

The dried up leaves are often the only thing that’s “natural” about the synthetic drug, despite marketing efforts that attempt to leverage the term in order to soften the legal resistance that’s mounting against it. A synthetic marijuana high trumps what’s typically expected from natural marijuana and its effects are often unpredictable at best. Recovery from a synthetic marijuana addiction requires a supervised drug detox period to flush the body of the drug.

Street Names for Marijuana

Marijuana goes by a handful of names, including weed, pot, grass, green and Mary Jane. But the vernacular can differ from region to region, so stay informed on the nicknames that are popular around you.

Other slang terms for weed include:

  • Bud
  • Herb
  • Chronic
  • Skunk
  • Hash
  • Reefer
  • Ganja
  • Kif
  • Widow

Dealers — and now retailers, due to the drug’s expanding legality in the United States — sell varieties of marijuana that are branded under unique names, based on the specific qualities of the plant it came from and the type of high it creates. Some of these names include Purple Haze, Kush, Sour Diesel, Blue Dream, and Trainwreck.

Where Would My Teen Get Marijuana?

Outside of alcohol, pot is the most widely used drug among teens: 44% of high school seniors have used it at some point. In many instances, friends and relatives may provide them with it.

teens rolling marijuana joints

Because marijuana production is now regulated in a lot of states and distributed legally in shops and prescription counters, availability of the drug is now widespread. In some ways, it’s well on its way to rivaling the popularity of alcohol. With the proper tools, dealers can even grow marijuana at home, allowing them to cut out the middle man and sell their own “homegrown” product.

Why Would My Teen Smoke Marijuana?

At the very least, marijuana is often among the most easily accessible drugs for a teenager. It has also earned a reputation as an easy drug to experiment on. Desensitization of marijuana use is most evident in surveys with high school students: only 36% of 12th graders think regular marijuana use can be harmful at all. What causes your teen to actually try weed can be a number of things.

Pleasure

The allure of smoking pot, first and foremost, is that it “feels good.” Marijuana interacts with the many different cannabinoid receptors in the brain. It’s at these various points of interaction that the drug alters the user’s states of emotion and pleasure. This leads to an intense high. (Or, colloquially, the drug allows the user to get baked, stoned, or lit.)

The high is not for everyone, however; some users experience adverse reactions to the drug, such as nausea or paranoia. In general, getting high on pot seems to be a popular experience for teens who are looking to be adventurous and activate the pleasure centers of the brain.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure influences 55% of teens to starts using marijuana in the first place. The truth is that teenagers can be swayed by their peers’ activities and interests. This is especially true in adolescence, when an eagerness to fit into and gain acceptance in social circles influences just how much they’ll conform.

marijuana addiction statistics infographic

Marijuana is among the most popular drugs at music festivals and outdoor events, where peers may casually pass around a joint (i.e. a rolled marijuana cigarette). Educating your teen on how to identify peer pressure and think independently and for themselves can be an effective tool for preventing this.

Stress

Teens may also begin to abuse marijuana to escape stress in their lives. Marijuana can have an effect on calming nerves once it interacts with the right receptors in the brain. It’s what could allow a teen to cope with adolescent stressors like school or family drama.

Research also suggests that the factors that lead to teen depression and suicidal tendencies may also lead to marijuana use. In general, though, the effects of marijuana on the brain may help the user temporarily disconnect from these negative thoughts. At the time, teens may fail to realize that getting into marijuana may potentially add to their problems.

Influence from TV and Social Media

Marijuana use has long been a go-to theme in teen-centric movies and TV shows, often glamorizing the drug and making heroes out of pot smokers. Weed is the drug of choice for countless musicians as well, who often drop lines in their songs about getting high.

Social media influence has also been very dramatic. A staggering 70% of teens spend time daily on social networks. Your child is is twice as likely to use marijuana and 4 times more likelier to use marijuana if they come across people their age talking about or posting pictures of smoking.

girl smoking blunt

What Are the Effects of Marijuana Use?

Smoking pot lowers inhibitions, impairs memory and coordination and can generally have a “stupefying” effect. Teen marijuana addiction often turns routine operations into major hazards. Everyday responsibilities like going to class, working a job, or driving a car can become highwire acts of precision and concentration.

How Is the Body Affected?

Studies have shown that smoking marijuana impacts still-developing teenagers. When compared to their non-smoking peers, boys who smoke marijuana go through puberty earlier but their growth ends up being stunted.

Prolonged marijuana smoking can cause severe breathing problems (e.g. daily cough, frequent lung illness and higher risk for lung infections) and an elevated heart rate, which can dramatically increase the odds of a heart attack.

How Is the Brain Affected?

Heavy marijuana use can do serious harm to the adolescent brain. Evidence suggests that regular pot use before age 18 can cause poorer long-term sustained attention, cognitive inhibition, abstract reasoning and reduced overall or verbal IQ. One study revealed that adolescents with early onset marijuana use never achieved their predicted trajectory in IQ — even if they eventually quit smoking.

The effects of inhaling marijuana smoke can be felt by the brain in a matter of seconds. THC interacts with cannabinoid receptors in the brain and interferes with anandamide, a molecule that regulates mood, memory, cognition, appetite, pain and emotions. This is what leads to the sensations of a marijuana high: euphoria, extreme relaxation, and heightened sense of hearing and sight.

THC also interferes with the brain’s normal stimulation of dopamine production — the neurotransmitter that naturally functions in the brain to give a user feelings of pleasure. The drug artificially triggers dopamine production by preventing dopamine-inhibiting neurons from functioning properly.

Excessive consumption and use of cannabis can also lead to a loss of cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which can cause a reduction in blood flow to and from the brain. This can cause memory loss, impairment to learning ability and even death.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana is derived from the buds and leaves of the cannabis plant. Cannabis has two main forms, one that has psychoactive properties and one that doesn’t. The former is Cannabis sativa, which is marijuana. The latter is Cannabis sativa L, also known as hemp, which is a non-psychoactive form that’s typically found in products like oils and clothing.

Marijuana is specially harvested for its psychoactive properties. It contains the potent chemical tetrahydrocannabinol — referred to in short form as THC — which is what produces the mellow and sometimes disorienting high when the drug is smoked or ingested.

Currently — despite its legality in many states around the country — on a federal level, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug, indicating the highest level of concern for abuse and addiction.

How Is Marijuana Used?

Traditionally, marijuana is smoked. The burning of the leaves and inhalation of the drug and its vapors allows for optimal THC release. Popular marijuana paraphernalia include glass and wood pipes, joints and blunts (i.e. rolled cigarettes and cigars) and bongs (i.e. vertical water pipes).

Teens may utilize other creative mediums for smoking, however. This can include everything from smoking through a hole in an apple, to rolling a makeshift pipe out of aluminum foil, to using “gravity bongs.” The latter is a plastic bottle with the bottom removed. It’s placed in water, some weed is placed in the top and a lighter is held to the drug while the bottle is slowly pulled up out of the water. This pulls a great deal of smoke from the small bit of grass.

A more recent form of marijuana, called “wax,” is a compact, sticky version with a higher concentration of THC. Teens call a hit of wax a “dab,” and taking dabs is an increasingly popular way to get very high, very quickly. Another innovation in marijuana has been hash oil, a brownish liquid derived from the plant. This can be loaded into electronic cigarettes and inhaled as a vapor, which is often marketed as a “cleaner” way to get high.

weed brownies on plate

For decades, dealers have baked marijuana into cookies and brownies, or created a butter packed with the drug that they they use in general cooking. “Edibles,” as they’re called, are foods laced with the drug. Recreational and medical marijuana dispensaries have adopted the process and now sell weed edibles — gummy snacks, chocolates, lollipops and even soda — alongside the traditional plant form. Users who get high from edibles avoid the inherent dangers of smoke inhalation, but can get dangerously high nonetheless. Because it’s so easy to down a large amount of edibles, teens may wind up consuming more of the drug than they intended to.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

Marijuana is addictive; the earlier teens start using, the higher their risk of psychological or physical dependence. Studies have shown that only 42% of 8th graders feel occasional marijuana use is harmful — and less than 21% of 12th graders feel it’s harmful.

man lighting bowl of marijuana

A marijuana dependence develops when the user’s brain adapts to habitual drug use and exposure. In time, the brain performs its expected functions by responding only to administration of the drug. The user may experience strong withdrawal symptoms when the drug is removed. Substance dependence does not necessarily lead to a substance use disorder — which is a disease that leads to the user craving or compulsively using the drug even despite any apparent damage it’s doing to them. However, the precursors for long-term dependence and addiction are there — especially since your teen’s developing brain could already be profoundly affected by the experimentation.

Research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that 9% of marijuan users eventually become addicted to the drug. This number jumps to 17% for users who start in their adolescence. The same study shows that 25–50% of daily users eventually develop an addiction to the drug.

The likelihood for your teen developing a marijuana addiction can be linked to certain factors:

  • How much marijuana is smoked
  • The frequency of marijuana usage
  • The potency of the marijuana that’s used

Does Your Teen Need Marijuana Addiction Treatment?

Teen addiction treatment may help your child get on the track to sobriety. In 2011, more kids aged 12–17 received treatment for marijuana use than for alcohol. In fact, 62% of teens in drug treatment are severely dependent on marijuana. If the problem has begun to impact their health, their grades and their attitude — and it doesn’t seem to be getting better — a visit to a treatment clinic may be just what they need to get back on track.

teen exhaling marijuana smoke

Most importantly, it’s important to understand that help starts with you. Teens are half as likely to use drugs when their loved ones take time out to teach them about the risks and consequences of drugs. Especially in the battle with a weed problem — and potentially a marijuana addiction — it’s your compassion that can help clear the fog and get them back on track.

Rehab can be an unusual experience for teens who are being removed from the comfortability of their home and their substance abuse. Make sure your entire family knows what to expect in rehab before your child gets started with treatment. Talk to your rehab facility’s staff about visiting your teen while they’re in treatment and if they offer rehab insurance options.

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