SAN DIEGO — When a state legalizes the recreational use of marijuana, local residents are more likely to give cannabis a try. While that’s fairly predictable, researchers from the University of California-San Diego say there’s one concerning caveat: minors who are not old enough to use marijuana are also consuming more illegally.
Cannabis proponents claim that legalization does not increase use, especially among adolescents. However, these findings challenge that narrative.
“Our findings provide useful information to policymakers and public health practitioners interested in understanding the consequences of legalizing recreational cannabis,” says principal investigator Yuyan Shi, PhD, associate professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego, in a university release.
This research was observational in nature and tracked a total of 6,925 adolescents and 14,938 adults. The team used data provided by the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health in the United States (PATH).
Study authors report that young people (ages 12-20) were more likely to become marijuana users if they lived in a state that had legalized the use of recreational cannabis. This also held true for adults.
Nearly 1 in 5 have tried marijuana
Marijuana use is becoming more and more commonplace in the United States. Per a 2020 Natural Survey on Drug Use and Health, 17.9 percent of people 12 or older (roughly 49.6 million people) used cannabis over the prior year.
This study examined residents living in four states that allow recreational cannabis use: Maine, Nevada, Massachusetts, and California. Researchers also included another 11 states allowing medical marijuana use, and 17 states prohibiting all cannabis use.
Thanks to the data provided by PATH, this project is the first ever to estimate age-level changes across a nationally representative sample of Americans. This study also features a much larger sample size than earlier research efforts.
“It’s especially concerning that increased cannabis use occurs among young people because of the detrimental health effects associated with cannabis use at a young age, including impaired respiratory function, cardiovascular disease and adverse effects on mental health,” Prof. Shi concludes.
The study is published in the journal Addiction.