The Surprising Truth about Adolescent Marijuana Addiction

Adolescent Marijuana Addiction Fueled by Multiple Factors

By: Trey Dyer

Adolescents and young people today live in an age characterized by shifting views on marijuana legality, as well as its potential use for medicinal purposes. More and more states are moving toward marijuana legalization, both recreationally and medically, or decriminalization. With society’s shifting views on marijuana use, and marijuana use arguably more prevalent in popular culture than ever before, adolescent marijuana addiction is also on the rise. Contrary to popular belief by many adolescents, marijuana is both physically and psychologically addicting, and there are a number of factors that contribute to the growing number of young people who become addicted to marijuana.

Teen Marijuana Addiction

According to Monitoring the Future, an annual study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, about one in every 16 high school seniors smoke marijuana daily or near-daily. Teens are three times as likely to become addicted to marijuana as adults, and earlier marijuana use among teens can make addiction development more likely later in life.

About 9 percent of users become addicted to marijuana, however 17 percent those who begin using marijuana when they are young and 25 to 50 percent of daily marijuana users develop an addiction to it, according to a study by researchers at the University of Queensland. With wider marijuana legalization and decriminalization, decreasing rates of marijuana use disapproval and perception of risks among adolescents, and increasing availability of more potent marijuana, the risk of marijuana addiction among teens is higher than ever.

Teens View Marijuana More Favorably

The amount of students who perceive regular marijuana use as harmful has declined substantially since 2005 and continues to do so. In the past decade, students who see regular marijuana use as harmful has fallen from 74 to 58 percent among eighth-graders, 66 to 43 percent among tenth-graders , and 58 to 32 percent among twelfth-graders. The percentage of students who disapprove of regular marijuana use is also declining. Twelfth-graders who disapproved of marijuana use reached its lowest rates in 25 years, and the number of tenth- and eighth-graders who disapproved of regular marijuana use were just above all-time lows.

High Rates of Teen Marijuana Use

Since 2010, teen marijuana use rates have remained near all-time highs and do not show signs of slowing down. According to the 2015 Monitoring the Future, 12 percent of eighth-graders, 25 percent of tenth-graders and 35 percent of twelfth-graders reported using marijuana within the last 12 months. Additionally, 1.1 percent of eighth-graders, three percent of tenth-graders and six percent of twelfth-graders reported using marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis.

Marijuana Legalization and Decriminalization

Four states — Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and Washington — have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and 24 states have legalized marijuana for medical use. More and more states are moving toward marijuana legalization both recreationally and medically, with states such as Florida and Ohio even voting on the measure during the 2014 November elections. Within states that have not legalized marijuana, decriminalization is becoming common, and many city and county governments have decriminalized marijuana within their own jurisdiction. While government officials claim that legalization or decriminalization is meant to alleviate harsh legal penalties for non-violent drug offenders, many critics argue that legalization and decriminalization contribute to change in the public’s perception of marijuana and risks associated with its use, thus perpetuating further marijuana addiction.

More Potent Marijuana

Marijuana today, on average, is much more potent than it was 20 years ago, according to Andy LaFrate, founder and director of Charas Scientific, a lab in Colorado that is sanctioned to test marijuana potency. According to LaFrate, marijuana is about three times more potent on average today than it was in the 1980s. THC, the active cannabis chemical responsible for producing euphoric effects, on average had levels of about 4 percent in marijuana in the 1980s. Today the average THC level in marijuana hovers around 20 percent. Consequently, higher THC levels increase the odds of frequent users developing a marijuana addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

About the Author

Trey Dyer is a writer for and advocate for helping those with substance addictions reach recovery. When he is not writing, Trey can be found barbecuing, playing soccer and fly fishing.


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