Medical Marijuana ≠ Teen Drug Abuse!
Scientists recently found something very interesting about teenage marijuana consumption in states where medical marijuana is legal. They found that legalizing pot for medical reasons lead to no increase in adolescent marijuana abuse.
Although that seems to contradict common sense, it’s absolutely true according to researchers from Columbia University. A team from the esteemed university recently published a landmark study in The Lancet Psychiatry.
The Columbia team set out to answer two questions – whether more adolescents smoked pot in states where it’s legal for medical use and whether the risk of smoking pot changed after making it legal.
To answer these questions, researchers examined data on over 1 million teenagers’ marijuana use habits over a period of twenty-four years. Their conclusions are outlined below, but suffice it to say they found some interesting results.
In fact, Deborah Hasin, one of the study’s lead authors, released a statement saying, “Our findings provide the strongest evidence to date that marijuana use by teenagers does not increase after a state legalizes medical marijuana” (Al Jazeera America).
The New Data on Adolescent Marijuana Use
To gather their data, the Columbia team studied research from the Monitoring the Future Study. This is an annual survey which examines 8th, 10th, and 12th graders drug use. Researchers looked at responses from almost 1.1 million students, in forty-eight states, between 1991 and 2014.
It’s safe to say this was a comprehensive study!
So, after sorting through all the numbers, what did the team find? Well, the first fact that stuck out was marijuana use was already high in states that went on to legalize it for medical use.
That makes sense, right? States with liberal attitudes towards pot will likely pass laws allowing for its medical use. These states will also likely have more adolescents and adults who use the drug recreationally.
What’s interesting is that researchers found no spike in teenage use after medical marijuana laws were passed.
Not only was there no increase in use, but there was actually a decrease in 8th grade marijuana use in those states. Looking at the table below, you can see that it’s more likely for an adolescent to smoke pot in one of the states where marijuana is outright illegal.
There are a number of theories for why this decline occurred. Some speculate that legalizing pot for medical reasons led to 8th graders thinking of it less as a drug of abuse and more as a medicine. Others believe legalizing pot galvanized parents to educate their children more thoroughly about the drug.
Regardless of the reason, less adolescents smoking marijuana is something we can all get behind!
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What Critics are Saying
Not everyone is onboard with this new research. There are a number of critics, mainly social conservatives, who are calling out for more research to be done. In an interesting twist of fate, the Columbia team itself believes more studies should be done.
Social conservatives have always argued that legalizing marijuana for medical use could led to an increase in overall drug abuse, particularly among teenagers. They believe allowing pot to be used for medical reasons will make it appear more attractive to teenagers and lead them to experiment.
This latest study confirms the above isn’t true. Still, this line of thinking is worth considering. After all, according to the study itself, 10th and 12th graders in states where medical marijuana’s legal do use the drug more often.
It’s important to point out that their use mirrors teenagers in states without medical marijuana. Still, why are adolescents in these states smoking more? Well, and this is where things get interesting, researchers believe there are “state-level risk factors.”
These risk factors can be things like a strong pro-marijuana culture, increased rates of other drug abuse, familial problems, and a generally relaxed attitudes surrounding marijuana use.
In fact, researchers from Columbia ultimately concluded,
“State-level risk factors other than medical marijuana laws could contribute to both marijuana use and the passage of medical marijuana laws, and such factors warrant investigation” (TIME).
Further investigation sounds good to me. For the time being, though, let’s all be happy that fewer teenagers are abusing drugs. That’s certainly a step in the right direction!