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Is Teen Marijuana Use Really a Big Deal?

Teen holding a joint Seriously, is it? Think about it. You never see strung-out teenagers huddled in alleyways shivering because they haven’t smoked a joint in a few days. Nor do they tend to commit violent acts to steal money to finance their pot habit. But just because marijuana may not be as dangerous as drugs like cocaine, heroin, or other opioids doesn’t mean that it is harmless.

Marijuana’s Long-Term Effects

After all, the psychoactive ingredient in pot can significantly affect brain function. THC alters normal brain communication with the rest of the body while also stimulating the neural reward system. Research indicates that continued exposure to THC can negatively impact memory and learning functions by physically modifying the structure of the brain. There’s also a correlation between adolescent marijuana use and drug addiction later in life. Though the majority of marijuana users won’t eventually become dependent on illicit substances, scientists have found enough evidence to indicate that pot has the potential to become a “gateway” drug. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that individuals who are dependent on marijuana are three times as likely to get addicted to heroin. And a study published earlier this year in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry revealed that boys who begin consuming marijuana prior to their 15th birthday have more than a two in three chance of struggling with substance misuse in their late 20s. A long-term Australian study sheds some light on the patterns of marijuana use disorder. Researchers discovered that about half of the respondents admitted to trying marijuana during their high school years, and 60 percent of them said they had consumed pot within the previous year around age 20. Roughly one in eight of the participants met the criteria for cannabis dependence at least once between the ages of 20 and 35.

Can You Get Addicted to Pot?

Some pot advocates may insist that it’s impossible to experience marijuana addiction. It’s true insofar as physical addiction, where the body experiences pronounced withdrawal symptoms if a person tries to stop consuming other illicit drugs. It’s also highly unlikely to succumb to a fatal marijuana overdose. However, it is definitely possible to become psychologically dependent upon marijuana. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about four million Americans fit the criteria for marijuana dependence – and people who start consuming marijuana prior to age 18 are between four and seven times more likely than adults to become dependent on the drug. Teen girl smoking a joint Moreover, pot smokers who try to give up the drug will usually experience their own version of withdrawal. Symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, moodiness, difficulty sleeping, reduced appetite, and pot cravings are common for up to two weeks after quitting marijuana.

Signs of Marijuana Dependence

So how can you distinguish between marijuana use and marijuana dependence? The manual of diagnostic disorders describes dependence as meeting two of these conditions within a 12-month period:
  • Consuming more pot over a longer time period
  • The development of a tolerance to marijuana
  • An inability to stop or decrease pot usage
  • Experiencing strong marijuana cravings
  • Spending an inordinate amount of time obtaining pot
  • An inability to meet work, school, or home obligations
  • A negative impact on relationships
  • Pot usage in hazardous situations (like driving)
  • Pot usage despite physical or psychological problems
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
The main takeaway is that marijuana use among teens should not be taken lightly. Parents are encouraged to treat pot like alcohol or any other illicit drug, and teens who have become dependent on marijuana should seek treatment because, if left unchecked, an adolescent’s marijuana habit could possibly hinder his or her future plans – which would definitely be a big deal. Contact us for more information about treating marijuana dependence.

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