Is Marijuana Addictive?

We hear it all the time: Marijuana is being legalized across the United States, so it must be safe. Marijuana is a natural plant, so it must not be dangerous. So many people use marijuana today, it must not be addicting. But are these claims justified, or is there more that we should know?

Unfortunately, there are many myths surrounding marijuana use. And these myths are fueling the public’s perception of the drug. Today, only 30 percent of high school seniors believe that regular marijuana use is harmful. The vast majority of teens and young adults believe it’s totally safe. In fact, close to 80 percent of teens have friends who use marijuana regularly. Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug among teens, and the most widely used drug (other than alcohol) in the United States.

If you are a parent, or even a marijuana user yourself, you may be questioning what’s true. Is marijuana addictive, or is it safe to use? Let’s break down the facts.

Marijuana is Addictive

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about nine percent of marijuana users will become addicted to the drug. Compare this to the 15 percent of people who become addicted to cocaine, another highly addictive and illicit substance. Notably, because so many people use marijuana today, addiction to the drug is twice as prevalent as dependence on any other illicit substances.

Certain demographics are more likely to get addicted to marijuana than others. For example, individuals who start using marijuana young (i.e. before age 25) are at high risk, with about 1 in every 6 youth becoming addicted to marijuana over time. In addition, up to half of daily marijuana users will become addicted to the drug.

This means that, among the 840+ high school seniors who currently smoke marijuana on a daily basis, the vast majority will become addicted to marijuana (if they are not already). And more than likely, marijuana is already affecting other aspects of their lives, including sub-optimal performance at school.

You see, during the adolescent and young adult years, the brain is still developing and undergoing dynamic changes. Using drugs during these critical years make a person much more vulnerable to developing an addiction, which is a disease of the brain. Marijuana specifically has been known to disrupt the brain’s progress. The drug is often associated with low academic performance, substance addiction, and mental health issues in young users.

Government sources cite long-term risks of repeated marijuana use in young people. As you can see,  addiction is at the top of the list, but it isn’t the only negative outcome:

  • Risk of marijuana addiction
  • Long-term learning and memory problems
  • Risk for chronic cough or bronchitis
  • Risk of schizophrenia in some people with higher genetic risk, as well as risk for other mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and psychosis
  • In rare cases, risk of recurrent episodes of severe nausea and vomiting

You can read more about marijuana’s effect on the brain here.

Beyond addiction, there are also short-term consequences of marijuana use at an early age. For example, adolescents who smoke weed are at an increased risk of sexually transmitted disease, pregnancy, early school dropout, delinquency, legal issues, and lowered motivation or aspirations in life.

Marijuana Addiction Treatment

Most young people entering drug treatment are battling problems with marijuana abuse. In fact, more adolescents are in treatment for marijuana addiction than any other illegal drugs combined. And, of the people entering treatment for marijuana, about half are under 25 years of age.

If you or a loved one is currently using marijuana, and questioning whether it is addictive (or whether your loved one is addicted), there are a few tell-tale signs. Most people who are addicted to marijuana perceive themselves as unable to stop using – despite problems (physically, mentally, socially, financially) caused by the drug. Many will also experience a withdrawal syndrome upon stopping use. Marijuana withdrawal symptoms include irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and drug cravings. It’s important to keep an eye out for these signs, and to recognize the importance of professional help.

Behavioral interventions and therapies are known as some of the most effective methods to overcome marijuana addiction. These include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Contingency Management (CM), which are designed to modify a person’s behaviors and attitudes surrounding their drug abuse, and to teach the person positive skills for a long-term recovery. Contingency Management therapy is motivational for teens and young adults in treatment, while Cognitive Behavioral Therapy provides strategies to help individuals cope with cravings and avoid relapse.

Despite the ongoing legalization of marijuana, and the widespread acceptance of the drug for recreational and medicinal use, one thing is clear: You can become addicted to marijuana. Marijuana addiction is not uncommon, and adolescents are especially at risk. Marijuana abuse is increasing among teens and young adults, but the potential impact makes it clear it’s time for change.

If you or someone you love is showing signs of marijuana use, or would like to learn more about marijuana addiction treatment, please do not hesitate to contact Turnbridge at 877-581-1793. We are a recognized young adult and adolescent treatment center located in Connecticut.