Our research shows that addiction is a disease with origins in adolescence. The younger teens are when they first use marijuana, the higher their risk of developing addiction. Individuals who say they first used marijuana before age 15 are 10 times as likely to meet the criteria for addiction involving marijuana at some point in their lives as those who say they first used the drug at age 21 or older. Young marijuana users are also more likely to engage in other substance use; 97% of high-school students who have tried marijuana have used another addictive substance.
The time has come to view marijuana and other risky substance use, especially by adolescents, as a public-health problem, and addiction as a medical condition. As a nation we want to ensure that our children grow up healthy and safe. To accomplish this goal, we need to implement evidence-based measures to prevent and reduce risky substance use, such as incorporating screening and brief intervention into routine health-care practice and reducing underage access to addictive substances like marijuana.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University