Teen Cannabis, Cigarette, and Other Drug Use Drops in States With Legal Medical Marijuana

Countless studies have demonstrated that the legalization of medical marijuana hasn’t had the effects that some policymakers feared upon the adolescent population. Many expected its use among teenagers to increase due to its broader availability and the normalization of its use in society.

An increase would be troubling for policymakers since there is evidence that early marijuana use may have a negative impact on developing brains. Politicians, of course, have a responsibility to enact marijuana laws that don’t expose developmentally vulnerable individuals like adolescents and young adults to the potentially harmful effects of cannabis use — and so far, medical marijuana legalization has proven to be useful policy.

A study released this week in Drug & Alcohol Dependence supports this growing consensus that medical marijuana laws are not encouraging teens to use pot. Following the enactment of medical marijuana laws at the state level, past-month or occasional cannabis use either dropped or remained unchanged among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, according to data from a long-standing nationally representative survey of nearly 1.2 million middle and high school students.

Marijuana Not a Gateway Drug

In addition to marijuana use, the teen subjects reported their use of cigarettes, non-medical use of opioids, amphetamines, tranquilizers, other prescription and illicit drugs, and binge-drinking. Interestingly, use of any of these substances fell among 8th graders while holding steady among those participants in 10th grade and 12th grade — excluding cigarette and non-medical prescription opioid use among 12th graders, which increased.

The researchers were not able to conclude whether medical marijuana laws contributed to these other changing trends, but these patterns did not seem to implicate marijuana as a gateway drug, a concept that has been perpetuated by opponents of legalization.

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Teen Marijuana Use at Its Lowest in Decades

Most recent studies seem to indicate that medical marijuana laws do not influence whether teens are smoking pot; the rate has been dropping steadily for the past 15 years and, in fact, is at its lowest point since 1994. Recent numbers from the National Institute of Drug Abuse found that only six percent of high school seniors are daily pot smokers, even though nearly half of them have tried marijuana at some point in their lives.

Another study from earlier this year was also able to conclude that medical marijuana legalization does not affect its prevalence of use among teens and young adults, whether for past-month or daily use.

And while adults aged 26 and older reported using more marijuana following medical legalization, neither teens or adults saw an increase in rates of cannabis abuse or dependence, a stat that should put any concerns that the legalization of marijuana would have a negative impact upon public health to rest.

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