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Marijuana Use Disorder in Children



  • Marijuana use disorder is a pattern of using marijuana that leads to serious personal, family and health problems.
  • Marijuana use disorder can be treated. For any treatment to be successful, your child must want to stop using marijuana. Your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe a medicine that will help your child get through withdrawal symptoms.
  • People and resources in your community that can help include healthcare providers, therapists, support groups, mental health centers, and alcohol or substance use disorder treatment programs.


What is marijuana use and dependence?

Marijuana is made from a plant called cannabis. It may be smoked or eaten. Hashish is a different form of marijuana that is made by boiling down the plant until it is like tar. Spice, or K2, is an incense made from herbs that are sprayed with a chemical called THC, which is the same chemical found in marijuana. Spice can be smoked or put into a drink.

It is illegal for children to use marijuana in all states unless it is prescribed by a healthcare provider. In some states, a healthcare provider can prescribe marijuana to treat epilepsy or other disorders.

Marijuana use disorder is pattern of using marijuana that leads to serious personal, family, and health problems. Marijuana use disorder is when your child keeps taking the drug even though it causes a problem such as:

  • Showing up late or missing work or school and not caring about things that used to matter to your child
  • Breaking rules or breaking the law
  • Not keeping promises, arguing, or even getting violent with other people
  • Doing things that are dangerous such as driving while under the influence

If your child continues to use drugs, your child can become dependent. When dependent, your child:

  • Needs to use more marijuana, or use it more often to get the same effects
  • Loses control, which means your child keeps using drugs though knowing that it is harmful to self or others, or your child can't stop using drugs while trying to quit
  • Craves drugs so much that your child spends a lot of time and energy getting drugs, using drugs, and getting over the effects
  • Has withdrawal symptoms when your child stops using marijuana

Your child may be abusing prescription marijuana if your child:

  • Takes it for reasons other than why it was prescribed
  • Takes more than the prescribed dose
  • Continues to use it when it is no longer needed

Dependence is also called addiction. Not everyone who uses prescription or illegal marijuana will become addicted. However, it is the most commonly abused drug in the US.

What is the cause?

Marijuana changes the way your child's body and brain work. When your child uses a lot of marijuana, the brain starts to get used to it and may need it to feel normal. As a result, your child thinks about marijuana all the time, doesn’t feel good unless using marijuana, and may act differently when using it. When your child stops using marijuana suddenly, the brain gets over-excited, which causes the symptoms of withdrawal.

Your child has a higher risk of becoming dependent on drugs if your child:

  • Has a family history of drug or alcohol use disorders
  • Has used alcohol or drugs in the past
  • Is easily frustrated, has trouble dealing with stress, or feels as if he or she isn’t good enough
  • Is regularly around people who use alcohol, or drugs
  • Has a mental health problem
  • Has constant pain

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of marijuana use or dependence depend on how much and how often your child uses the drug. The symptoms can be mild to severe such as:

  • Having belly pain, nausea, vomiting, or increased appetite
  • Having trouble thinking, learning, or remembering
  • Seeing, hearing, or feeling something that is not there
  • Thinking that others are out to get your child when they are not

Your child may also have symptoms of new or worse health problems caused by marijuana use such as heart or lung problems.

The symptoms of marijuana withdrawal can be mild to severe. Your child may have some of these symptoms when stopping marijuana use:

  • Feeling nervous and restless
  • Losing appetite
  • Feeling depressed or anxious
  • Craving marijuana
  • Having trouble sleeping

How is it diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask how much and how often your child uses marijuana. Your child needs to be honest about drug use. Your child’s healthcare provider needs this information to give your child the right treatment. Your child’s healthcare provider will also ask about your child’s symptoms, medical history and give your child a physical exam. Your child may have blood or urine tests.

How is it treated?

Marijuana use and dependence can be treated. For any treatment to be successful, your child must want to stop using marijuana. When your child stops using marijuana, your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to help get through withdrawal symptoms. Your child should not use alcohol and other drugs to reduce withdrawal symptoms.

If your child is using or dependent on marijuana and wants to quit, get help. Support groups and therapy may be helpful. Your child’s healthcare providers and counselors will work with you and your child to develop a treatment program. Recovery from dependence is a long-term process. Follow-up treatment is important so that your child doesn’t go back to using marijuana.

If your child has overdosed or is having severe withdrawal symptoms, your child will need to be treated in a hospital.

How can I help prevent marijuana use and dependence?

You can help prevent marijuana use if you:

  • Talk to your child about the risks of smoking, using e-cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and using drugs. Teach your child how to make good choices. Teach in a way that fits your child's age and ability to understand. For example:
    • If you are watching TV with your 6-year-old and marijuana is mentioned on a program, you can say, "Do you know what marijuana is? It's a bad drug that can hurt your body." If your child has more questions, answer them. If not, let it go. Short, simple comments that are repeated often will get the message across.
    • For your 12-year-old, you might explain what marijuana looks like, the different names for marijuana, and how using marijuana will change your child’s brain and body. Talk to your child about drugs whenever you can.
  • Listen to your child's feelings and concerns, so that your child feels comfortable talking with you.
  • Make your family position on drugs clear. For example, "In our family, we don't use drugs and the children are not allowed to drink alcohol." Set a good example. Your child is much more likely to use drugs if you use drugs or alcohol, even if you tell your child not to.
  • Talk about what makes a good friend. Peer pressure is a big part of why kids get involved with drugs and alcohol. Help your child understand that friends who pressure them to drink or use drugs aren't friends at all. Role-play ways for your child to say no to drugs such as:
    • Say, “no, thanks” and walk away.
    • Suggest something else to do such as playing a video game.
    • Use humor, such as "No thanks. If I want to fry my brain, I'll get a skillet."
  • Build self-esteem. Children who feel good about themselves are much less likely to turn to drugs. Offer lots of praise for a job well done. If you need to criticize or discipline your child, talk about the action, not the child. For example, instead of saying "you should know better" try saying, "what you're doing is not safe." Set aside time every day to talk, play a game, or take a walk with each of your children.

People and resources in your community that can help include healthcare providers, therapists, support groups, mental health centers, and alcohol or substance use disorder treatment programs.

For more information, contact:

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2022.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2021-06-25
Last reviewed: 2021-05-26
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2022 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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