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Marijuana Addiction and Youth

By Jocelyn Shorts, MPH, CHES, Health Educator I/ Youth Services

Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug used by teens today.  More than 83 million Americans (37%) age 12 and older have tried marijuana at least once.  The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) has shown that since 1992, the rate of past month marijuana use among youth has more than doubled, going from 3.4 percent in 1991 to 7.1 percent in 1996.  In 2001, reports showed that 20 percent of 8th-graders had tried marijuana at least once, and by 10th grade, 20 percent were “current users” or had used within the past month.  Among 12th-graders, nearly 50 percent had tried marijuana at least once, and about 22 percent were current users (National Clearninghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information [NCADI], 2003).

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana is a green, brown, or gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa.  Cannabis is a term that refers to marijuana and other drugs made from the same plant and all forms are mind-altering (psychoactive) drugs.  They all contain THC (dela-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active chemical in marijuana.  The strength of the drug is determined by the amount of THC in the sample.

What Are The Health Effects Of Using Marijuana?

There are much stronger forms of marijuana available today than in the 1960s which lead to stronger effects.  Marijuana increases dopamine, and once that happens, a user may feel the urge to smoke again and again.  Repeated use could lead to drug addiction (a disease where people continue to do something, even when there are severe negative consequences involved).  In 2006, the majority of youth (age 17 or younger) entering alcohol and drug abuse treatment reported marijuana as their primary drug abused

Research has shown both immediate harmful effects and long-term damage to health over time.  Short-term effects include problems with memory and learning, distorted perception (sights, sounds, time, and touch), trouble with thinking and problem solving, loss of motor coordination and increased heart rate. Long-term effects could include cancer, breathing problems, coughing and wheezing, immune deficiency and reduced mental functions.  (Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA], 2008).

Why Do Youth Use Marijuana?

There are many reasons why some adolescents use marijuana.  Most adolescents use marijuana as a “recreational drug” and roll loose marijuana into a cigarette called a joint or a nail.  Another method is to slice open a cigar and replace the tobacco with marijuana, making it into a blunt.  Lately, marijuana cigarettes or blunts often include crack cocaine or PCP (Phencyclidine).    

Many youth start smoking marijuana because they see their family members and friends using it while others may start because of curiosity, peer pressure, lack of supervision, and/or trying to “fit in” to a certain social group.  Some teens may think smoking marijuana is “cool” because they see it on television and in movies.

Marijuana use can affect many aspects of the youth’s life including school, sports, work and other activities.  Marijuana use has also been linked to the use of other illicit drugs.  Long-term studies of high school students show that few young people use other illegal drugs without first trying marijuana.  

What Are Possible Signs of Marijuana Use?

Some possible signs to look for in a teen suspected of using marijuana are:
  • Dilated (large) pupils
  • Smell on clothing, in room, or in car
  • Fatigue
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Reduced motivation
  • Dizziness and trouble walking
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Cigarette rolling papers, bongs, homemade smoking devices

Source: Adolescent Substance Abuse Knowledge Base (2007); http://www.adolescent-substance-abuse.com/signs-marijuana.html

What if My Teen Is Using Marijuana?

Marijuana is a powerful drug which can lead to an addiction that requires intervention and treatment.  Although not every teen that smokes marijuana will become addicted, many heavy users will show patterns of marijuana dependence such as withdrawal symptoms when they do not use the drug, increase tolerance, decrease in social life, performing poorly in school, and physical or psychological problems.  There are many adolescents who need help with their drug use even though they deny marijuana dependence.  

Currently, no medications exist for treating marijuana addiction.  Treatment programs focus on behavioral therapies and a number of programs are designed specifically to help teens who are abusers.

Tarzana Treatment Centers in Los Angeles provides comprehensive education on alcohol and drugs to adolescents, adults and families in adolescent drug treatment and in the community at large with emphasis on understanding the addictive process, utilizing new found strategies, improving functioning and facilitating sobriety.

If you or your teen need alcohol and drug treatment, please call us at 888-777-8565 or contact us here.

Southern California Locations for Alcohol and Drug Treatment
Tarzana Treatment Centers has locations all over Southern California in Los Angeles County. Other than our central location in Tarzana, we have facilities in Lancaster in the Antelope Valley, Long Beach, and in Northridge and Reseda in the San Fernando Valley.

The likelihood of marijuana use by teens is significantly lower when parents learn the facts and risks about drugs, have frequent conversations with their teen about them, and are actively involved in their teen’s life.  Remember to discuss with teens what is happening in their world and the importance of making the right choices.  The most successful conversations should focus on information that is most important to the teen.  


Blackburn, Claudia (2009). Marijuana in Today’s Youth. Retrieved August 18, 2009 from http://www.caron.org/marijuana-in-today-s-youth/

Greenblatt, J.C. (2002). Adolescent Self-Reported Behaviors and Their Assocation with Marijuana Use. Retrieved on August 14, 2009 from http://www.tgorski.com/Adolescents/adolescent_marijuana_problems_SAMHSA.htm

Marijuana Addiction (2008). National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA], Retrieved on August 17, 2009 from http://www.drug-rehab.com/marijuana-addiction.htm

Marijuana: Facts Parents Need To Know (2003). National Clearninghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information [NCADI]. Retrieved August 17, 2009 from

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