Marijuana use is widespead among adolescents and young adults. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, in 2011, 12.5 percent of 8th-graders reported marijuana use in the past year, and 7.2 percent were current users. Among 10th-graders, 28.8 percent had used marijuana in the past year, and 17.6 percent were current users. Rates of use among 12th-graders were higher still.... 20.6 percent were current users.
What’s alarming about these rates are that they represent an increasing trend among adolescents of a relaxed attitude towards the risk, abuse and addictive nature of marijuana use. As we move further into talks of legalizing marijuana coupled with this relaxed attitude, I am finding renewed pushback from teens in treatment arguing that marijuana is less dangerous than drinking. I have also found an increasing number of parents and clinicans asking, “Is marijuana addictive?”
The answer is YES - Psychologically and Physically
Long-term use of marijuana can lead to addiction. Many want to hinge on “long-term” and “can” as terms for argument. While long-term use is typically defined in terms of years, it is different for adolescents and adults. Because marijuana is a psychoactive drug it alters, changes, and impairs the users ability to form new memories and to shift focus. THC, the principle psychoactive substance found in the cannabis plant, also disrupts coordination and balance by binding to receptors in the cerebellum and basal ganglia—parts of the brain that regulate balance, posture, coordination, and reaction time. Therefore, learning, doing complicated tasks, participating in athletics, and driving are also affected. Research has shown that marijuana's negative effect on attention, memory, and learning can last for days or weeks after the acute effects of the drug wear off. Consequently, someone who smokes marijuana daily may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level most or all of the time.
For an aldolescent whose brain is continuing to develop, these negative changes, alterations and impairments can have lasting, if not permanent affects of the brain's development and subsequent cognitive functioning. It is estimated that 9% of people who use marijuana will become dependent on it; that is, people have difficulty controlling their drug use and cannot stop even though it interferes with many aspects of their lives. That number goes up to about 1 in 6 in those who start using young (in their teens) and to 25-50% among daily users.
It is not by chance that the earlier the drug use, the greater the possibility of continued use leading to dependency.