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Concern about medical cannabis legalization leading to teens feeling encouraged to use the plant recreationally and more frequently has been widely expressed. However, a recent study published in The Lancet Psychiatry concluded there are no significant links between adolescent cannabis use and the legalization of medical marijuana.

The comprehensive study, “Medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use in the USA from 1991 to 2014: results from annual, repeated cross-sectional surveys,” spanned a period of 24 years from 1991 though 2014. Over one million teens from the ages of 13 to 18 completed the government-funded survey. Given to 8th, 10th and 12th graders in 48 states, the periodic questionnaire focused on cannabis consumption in the previous month.

While it is important to note that teen cannabis use was generally higher in states that went on to legalize medical consumption, researchers did not see an additional spike in the plant’s usage after laws were passed. In fact, overall use by 8th graders decreased in states with legal medical marijuana. Some scientists speculated that the fall was due to children viewing the now ‘adult-approved’ plant to be less of an enjoyable recreational activity. Others considered that parents might be working harder to stop their children from trying cannabis.

Deborah Hasin, a reviewer of the data and Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York stated:

“Our findings provide the strongest evidence to date that marijuana use by teenagers does not increase after a state legalizes medical marijuana.”

However, this is not the only report or study that points to this conclusion. In 2013, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment showed that high school cannabis consumption decreased from 22 percent to 20 percent over the course of 2011 to 2013. Dr. Larry Wolk, CDPHE’s director, suggested that as with tobacco, youth prevention campaigns likely ensure that adult legalization does not impact the health of the state’s children.

The 13th Biennial California Student Survey found that marijuana consumption in teens was less than in years before medical cannabis was legal. The researchers also noted that the plant’s usage increased in states where medical marijuana was prohibited.

Dr. Kevin Hill from McLean Hospital’s Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse said of Hasin’s most recent study:

“Future decisions that states make about whether or not to enact medical marijuana laws should be at least partly guided by this evidence. The framework of using a scientific method to challenge what might be ideological beliefs must remain an important driver of future research on marijuana policy.”

Harvard Univeristy’s 2014 Harvard Public Opinion Project, found that legalization does not encourage marijuana use. This study focused on full legalization rather than solely on medical marijuana legalization. Nearly 90 percent of participants who have not used marijuana responded that they are not likely to change behavior if it is legalized.

Why has teen cannabis use decreased as a result of legalization? Although one exact answer is not yet known, it may have something to do with increased knowledge about cannabis. The answer to this question is a complicated and multifaceted one that will require more study. However, this most recent research signals a new wave of understanding for this fascinating plant.

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