After July 1st, Virginia the 16th state to legalize recreational marijuana. The Old Dominion joins a steady procession of states who in recent years have rapidly changed their laws governing marijuana’s sale and use, with some states considering full decriminalization of all drugs.
With increased legality comes popularity: according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana is second to alcohol as the most used psychotropic drug in the U.S.
Unfortunately, that popularity has extended to children.
NIDA reports marijuana use among middle and high school-aged children peaked during the 1990s and then gradually declined during the 2000s. However, they also report a “significant increase” of use began in 2019, well into the push for legalized marijuana in the U.S.
This increase is particularly alarming after the publishing of a study in the March 2021 edition of JAMA Pediatrics. Among its findings? Teens who try marijuana or other substances are more likely to become addicted within a year than young adults.
Teens Appear More Susceptible To Addiction
In the study, NIDA researchers analyzed data from survey participants in the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) from 2015 to 2018. The participants were separated into two groups: adolescents aged 12 to 17, and young adults aged 18 to 25. Tobacco, alcohol and cannabis were cited by both groups as the substances they used most often.
After examining the data, the researchers found something startling: the 12 to 17 group were nearly 11% more likely to develop a cannabis use disorder within 12 months of using the substance for the first time. For the older group, the percentage was 6.4%
Alarmingly, the higher tendency towards substance use disorders extended to prescribed substances as well. Almost 14% of teens who tried prescription stimulants developed addiction disorders within a year as compared to 3.9% of the young adults.
Speaking to USA Today about the study, lead author Nora Vokow, M.D., said “though not everybody who uses a drug will develop addiction, adolescents may develop addiction faster than adults.”
Addiction is bad enough in adults, but when it starts at earlier ages, the dangers are far higher. Much of that has to do with the way the brain matures.
Taking Risks With The Brain’s Reward System
The human brain takes longer to mature than you might think – in most people, the brain finishes its development at about 24 years of age. One of the most important areas of the brain is the prefrontal cortex, an area which governs behavior, judgement and impulse control. This area of the brain is also one of the last areas to develop fully, which is why teens can be prone to high-risk behaviors, tend not to plan very well and so on.
Vast numbers of nerve cells make up the structure of our brains. Those cells communicate with each other via neurotransmitters, chemicals which send signals between the nerves. Sometimes, these signals act as a sort-of reward system, which is why certain activities feel good to do. Those good feelings result from a neurotransmitter called dopamine.
Addictive drugs rewire the brain to produce massive amounts of dopamine, which drives the euphoric feelings so many addicts chase. Unfortunately, the brain often has trouble returning to normal functions after using substances, creating an emotional “low” that can last for a long time. This endless back-and-forth is one of the factors that drives addiction.
Although more research is needed, evidence seems to show teens who use marijuana may be at a greater risk for mental illnesses such as psychosis and schizophrenia. Harvard Medical School cites a study which found adolescents and other young people who used marijuana at least five times were more likely to develop psychosis. This risk seems to be especially pronounced in teens who have parents or siblings already dealing with a mental disorder.
Also, the CDC warns the risk of developing a substance use disorder later in life is much greater the earlier a teen starts using substances. Substance use also places teens at greater risk of dangerous behavior like driving under the influence.
Fortunately, there’s some good news: Substance abuse is treatable, particularly with long-term treatment programs. Key to a long-term treatment program is sober living. Having a place free from addiction triggers and harmful influence can make all the difference in a successful recovery.
SoberLivingNearYou.com is your ideal guide to sober living. With our site, you have pages of sober living houses at your fingertips, meaning your search for a sober place to call home has never been easier. Want to learn more? Reach out to us at 866-940-0439.