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Common Reasons Why Young Adults Use Marijuana

Aron Janssen, MD is board certified in child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry and is the vice chair of child and adolescent psychiatry Northwestern University.

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According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 20% of young adults (between the ages of 18 and 25) used marijuana in 2016.   This eye-opening statistic supports the importance of developing interventions that target people in young adulthood, which is the prime time when marijuana is being introduced and habits are forming. But in order for experts to develop effective interventions, they need to understand exactly why young adults use marijuana.

Reasons Why Young Adults Tend to Use Marijuana

Based on research, here are some possible reasons why a young adult may smoke or ingest marijuana:

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is an obvious reason that young adults begin smoking marijuana. As a person adjusts to high school, college, or a new job or vocation, he or she is forming new friendships and sorting out personal identity and ways of socializing.

The bottom line here is that during a vulnerable time of transition, a person’s social environment can be particularly influential when it comes to experimenting with marijuana.

This does not mean that teens are using marijuana because they are pressured to do so by their friends. Instead, the normalization of drug use within their social group makes it more likely that they will use it as well.

That peer group, however, is not limited to their friends at school, but also to members of their own families. In other words, when a young adult witnesses older members of their family using marijuana, that can be a big influence.

Besides peers and family, pop culture is another means of peer pressure. Depictions of marijuana in movies, television, and social media also contribute to the normalization of marijuana use.

Belief That Marijuana Is Harmless

Due to the fact that there are few research studies examining the detrimental health effects of long-term marijuana use, some people perceive marijuana as “harmless,” potentially making it more appealing than tobacco or other illicit drugs.  

However, there are both psychological and physical health effects of using marijuana. Short-term use of marijuana may lead to memory and thinking problems, loss of coordination, anxiety, and altered senses.  

Long-term marijuana use has been found to increase a person’s heart rate, increase their risk for lung infections, weaken their immune system, and be associated with temporary hallucinations and paranoia.  

In addition, compared to people who do not use marijuana, those who use it report poorer physical and mental health, more relationship problems, and lower life satisfaction.  

Lastly, marijuana use can develop into a substance abuse disorder and, with severe use, can lead to addiction.

Relief From Mental Conditions

Teens may also use marijuana to self-treat mental health conditions such as anxiety and mood disorders. Teens report using marijuana to get relief from a variety of ailments including stress, sleep difficulties, trouble concentrating, physical pain, depression, and anxiety.

Studies have also found that marijuana use during adolescence is linked to a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with an anxiety or mood disorder during adulthood.  

Talk to your child’s doctor or mental health professional if you suspect that your teen might have an undiagnosed mental health condition. Effective treatments are available.

Availability and Opportunity

Availability is a key factor when it comes to marijuana use in young adults.

Unfortunately for a growing number of today’s young adults, obtaining marijuana is becoming even easier, as more states make it legal for medical and recreational use.

Having the opportunity to smoke also contributes to the increased use of marijuana, especially in college-aged students where there are less adult supervision and more privacy.

In fact, according to the National College Health Assessment, nearly 40% of college students have tried marijuana, and marijuana use increases during the college years, with more college seniors using marijuana than college freshmen.  

Other Potential Reasons

According to a study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, besides the reasons mentioned above, young people may also use marijuana to feel good, ease boredom, relieve tension or frustration, seek deeper insights, escape problems, or to increase (or decrease) the effects of other drugs.  

A Word From Verywell

A young adult’s motivation for using marijuana matters because it influences whether or not they may go on to have problems with marijuana, like a substance abuse disorder. For instance, a motive like experimentation is linked to less marijuana use and fewer future marijuana problems, whereas using marijuana to cope is a strong predictor of marijuana problems in the future.

In the end, gaining knowledge about young adults’ motivations to using marijuana is the first step to developing effective strategies for preventing marijuana use in the first place, and stopping use if a person has already begun.

Learn about the reasons why teens and young adults begin using marijuana, including peer pressure and the belief that it is harmless to their health.