Teen Marijuana Use Predicted to Rise with Legalization

marijuana useNational support for the legalization for marijuana is increasing in the United States.[1] In fact, recreational use was recently legalized in Colorado and Washington, with other states expected to follow suit.1 Also, an additional 15 states have decriminalized marijuana use, and 19 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana to be prescribed.1

Researchers associated with New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research has conducted a study that found that large numbers of high school students who were once at a low risk of marijuana use reported the intention to use it if it were legal.1 The study used data from a nation-wide, ongoing study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students, called Monitoring the Future.1 It was found that 10 percent of non-lifetime marijuana users surveyed stated that they would try marijuana if it were legal.1

Researchers examined data that was collected prior to the legalization of recreational marijuana, but after legalization of medical marijuana was pending in 16 states.1 They analyzed the data of 6,116 seniors who reported no lifetime use of marijuana separately from the 3,829 seniors who reported lifetime use.1 Researchers looked at whether demographics, substance use, and perceived friend disapproval towards marijuana use was associated with intention to try marijuana among non-lifetime users, and with intention to use marijuana as often or more often among lifetime users (if it were legal).1

“Assuming that onset use would occur before or during the senior year, the study’s results suggest that this would constitute a 5.6 percent absolute increase in lifetime prevalence in this age group, rising from 45.6 percent to 51.2 percent,” said Joseph J. Palamar, Ph.D., MPH. “However, lifetime prevalence increases as adolescents age into adulthood. So, by age 26, 64 percent of young adults in the U.S. are expected to use marijuana in their lifetime in the current policy context. We don’t know whether those found to be at risk in this study are the same adolescents that are going to use at an older age regardless of legal status.”1

Also, the odds for intention to use increased among groups that were already at a high risk to use.1

“What I personally find interesting is the reasonably high percentage of students who are very religious, non-cigarette smokers, non-drinkers, and those who have friends who disapprove of marijuana use—who said they intended to try marijuana if it were legal,” said Palamar. “This suggests that many people may be solely avoiding use because it is illegal, not because it is ‘bad’ for you or ‘wrong’ to use.”1

Researchers caution that as marijuana legalization continues, its use will increase and present adverse consequences that public health practitioners should educate users on.1

[1] New York University. (2014, February 25). Prevalence of high school seniors’ marijuana use is expected to increase with legalization. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 5, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140225112904.htm

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