Gender Differences in Adolescent Marijuana Use
Two nationwide surveys, Monitoring the Future and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, report marijuana use as a common practice among adolescents, preceded only by alcohol and tobacco. The risks associated with using marijuana are startling, especially with the drug’s popularity. For example, adolescents who regularly use marijuana often experience an increased level of anxiety or depression that sometimes is accompanied by suicidal thoughts. Use of the substance is also linked to the development of anxiety, depressive, and bipolar disorders. Aside from mental disorders, marijuana use among adolescents typically causes difficulty sleeping, respiratory problems, and cancer, as well as the cognitive effects of attention, learning, and memory deficits. All of these effects lead to poor school performance, and even school dropout, aside from deviant behaviors. Therefore, understanding the typical features of an adolescent marijuana user will aid in target prevention and intervention techniques.
In achieving this goal, Schepis and colleagues believe that the different genders have different reasons as to why an adolescent will use, how they will use, and what type of user they are. Exploring each gender’s risk for the factors previously listed will help clinicians target preventions and interventions better toward each gender.11 However, as gender differences among marijuana use is an understudied topic, Schepis and colleagues conducted a survey in order to provide solid scientific evidence.
Schepis and colleagues invited all public high schools in Connecticut to participate. For those who accepted, a consent form was mailed to each student’s home, along with a description of the survey. Parents were able to opt their child out of the survey if they pleased, and so could the student. The research staff distributed the surveys, explained the directions, and collected them when finished. Within a school, all surveys were completed at the same time.11
The survey consisted of 153 questions regarding demographic information, different substances used, and other risky behaviors, such as gambling, physical fighting, and weapon carrying.11 Specific questions about marijuana, cigarette use, alcohol use and binge drinking, and steroid use appeared on the survey, with specifics about age of first use and age of dependency.11 Questions relating to mental disorders and feelings of anxiety and depression were included. The survey further asked whether the student participated in extracurricular activities and held employment.11
Of the 4,523 adolescent participants, 1,906 males, or 89.7 percent, and 2,191 females, or 93.4 percent, completed the section regarding marijuana use and were included in the study.11 Of those numbers, 500 males, or 26.2 percent, and 414 females, or 18.9 percent, reported lifetime marijuana use.11 The average age of the participants was 15.86 years, and the age of initiation and regular use for males was 13 or 14 years, and female initial use was 13 or 14 years, but female regular use was 15 or 16 years.11 Regarding race and ethnicity, participants were allowed to select as many choices as they pleased; therefore, the statistics exceed 100 percent total: 75.8 percent Caucasian, 18.3 percent Asian/Other, 14 percent Hispanic/Latino, and 10.2 percent African American.11 Overall, Schepis and colleagues found that 40.4 percent of participants reported lifetime marijuana use. Gender-wise, 39 percent of females and 42.1 percent of males reported lifetime use.11
Schepis and colleagues found year in school, average grades, and family structure to correspond directly with adolescent marijuana use. The study’s data showed that ninth graders were less likely than eleventh and twelfth graders to have used marijuana, and students with an A/B average were less likely to have used than those with a B/C or C/D/F average.11 Regarding family structure, males and females differed, as males in a two-parent household were less likely to use marijuana than those in a one-parent household or other living arrangement, while females in a two-parent household were only less likely to use marijuana than those in a one-parent household and not another living arrangement.11
Among race and ethnicity, gender differences were also noticed. For example, Shepis and colleagues found that African American males and Caucasian females were most likely to use marijuana, while Asian/Other females were among those least likely to ever use. Also, with both genders, engaging in extracurricular activities correlated with less lifetime use; however, holding employment showed increased rates of ever using marijuana.11 Those who participated in risky behaviors were linked to an increased likelihood of lifetime marijuana use.11
Overall, Schepis and colleagues found that race/ethnicity and psychosocial factors directly correlated with lifetime marijuana use. The study found that gender-wise, African American, Caucasian, and Asian/Other race/ethnicity had a direct impact of lifetime use, as well as participation in extracurricular activities and employment.11 African American and Asian/Other females were at less of a risk for lifetime marijuana use, while Caucasian females were at a greater risk.11 Females who engaged in extracurricular activities were also at a lesser risk of lifetime use, while males did not show the same results.11 Regarding employment, Schepis and colleagues noted that employed females were at a greater risk of lifetime marijuana use than were employed males.
Prevention and intervention programs to specifically target those at greater risk of lifetime marijuana use can be developed regarding Schepis and colleagues’ findings. The study reports that use of other substances increase and adolescent’s likelihood of using marijuana; therefore, the presence of such should be a clue to screening for marijuana. Schepis and colleagues also believe that engaging adolescents in extracurricular activities will discourage marijuana use by avoiding boredom, a key motivating factor in marijuana use. As peer pressure seems to differ across race and ethnicity, additional research should be completed to further examine such.11
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