Is it possible for adolescents to become addicted to marijuana?

Key points:

  • Adolescents are at risk of becoming addicted to marijuana the earlier they start using it.

  • The brain doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25, making youth more susceptible to the effects of marijuana.

  • Marijuana addiction is a recognized substance abuse disorder that often requires professional medical help.

While marijuana is a self-described “miracle drug” for many, it can be a dangerously addictive substance – especially to youth.


Adolescents, in particular, are at a higher risk of becoming addicted to marijuana the earlier they start using it. Because their brains do not fully develop until the age of 25, adolescents lack mature critical thinking and decision-making skills – making them more vulnerable to the drug’s side effects. Young people who regularly use marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder. And youth with a family history of substance abuse are even more susceptible to addiction than their peers.


Sad girl trapped in her own mind

What are the signs of marijuana addiction?

Marijuana addiction – also called “marijuana or cannabis use disorder” – is a recognized substance abuse disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). The DSM-5 classifies it as “the presence of at least two of the following symptoms, occurring within 12 months:”

  1. Hazardous use: Marijuana is used in a harmful way, like driving under the influence or blacking out.

  2. Social or interpersonal problems: Marijuana use is the cause of conflicts in relationships with friends, family, or at school.

  3. Neglected major roles to use: Daily responsibilities like school, family, or work suffer because of marijuana use.

  4. Withdrawal: Feeling sick when marijuana use is stopped. Vomiting (throwing up), feeling anxious or feeling tired are just some of the symptoms.

  5. Tolerance: As the body becomes used to marijuana, it takes more marijuana to achieve the same effect.

  6. Use larger amounts/longer: Using more marijuana, more often to feel its effects.

  7. Repeated attempts to control use or quit: Unsuccessfully tried to cut back on or quit marijuana.

  8. Much time spent using: Marijuana use takes up a lot of time.

  9. Physical or psychological problems related to use: Marijuana has caused physical or mental health problems, like trouble breathing or depression.

  10. Activities are given up to use: Missing or giving up activities that are enjoyable to use marijuana.

  11. Craving: A strong desire to use marijuana and cannot stop thinking about it.


Depressed man sitting in dark room

How may having a marijuana addiction affect adolescents’ health?


Studies have shown that heavy marijuana use in adolescence may cause physical changes to the brain, memory and learning issues, decreased driving ability, and poorer quality of life. Read this article to learn more.

What should I do if I think my child is addicted to marijuana?


Talk to your child’s pediatrician or doctor. You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for support.



By Kristin Erekson Barton, MA, CHES

Reviewed by Cindy Bistany, DHSc

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References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019, December 02). E-Cigarettes: Talk to youth about the risks. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/features/back-to-school/e-cigarettes-talk-to-youth-about-risks/index.html

  2. Chadi N, Bagley SM, Hadland SE. Addressing Adolescents' and Young Adults' Substance Use Disorders. Med Clin North Am. 2018 Jul;102(4):603-620. doi: 10.1016/j.mcna.2018.02.015. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29933818/

  3. Hasin DS, O'Brien CP, Auriacombe M, et al. DSM-5 criteria for substance use disorders: Recommendations and rationale. Am J Psychiatry. 2013;170(8):834–851. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.12060782. Retrieved from: https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.12060782

  4. Winters KC, Lee C-YS. Likelihood of developing an alcohol and cannabis use disorder during youth: Association with recent use and age. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2008;92(1-3):239-247. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2007.08.005. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2219953/