As US states continue to legalize or decriminalize marijuana, scientists are trying to study how the availability of legal weed impacts usage by different groups. Teenagers are one group, and they are often studied due to their vulnerable status in society.
One study on teenage marijuana use from the Washington University School of Medicine just shed light on a hugely important trend. Scientists wanted to know this: As the presence of legal marijuana increases, does teenage marijuana use increase or decrease and do teenage marijuana-related problems increase or decrease?
The study, which surveyed more than 216,000 adolescents from all 50 states, surprisingly found marijuana use by young people is dropping and marijuana-related problems among teens are dropping, even as availability and adult marijuana use goes up, according to a press release.
The researchers used data from people aged 12 to 17 collected over a 12-year span. In that time from 2002 to 2013, the number of teens who had problems related to marijuana, like drug dependency or trouble with school and relationships, declined by 24 percent.
At the same time as this drop in marijuana use, behavioral problems, like fighting and drug dealing, also dropped. The study does not assert that one thing caused the other, but the researchers did find a correlation.
The study's first author, Professor Richard A. Grucza, was actually surprised by these findings.
We were surprised to see substantial declines in marijuana use and abuse. We don't know how legalization is affecting young marijuana users, but it could be that many kids with behavioral problems are more likely to get treatment earlier in childhood, making them less likely to turn to pot during adolescence. But whatever is happening with these behavioral issues, it seems to be outweighing any effects of marijuana decriminalization...
He hopes understanding this correlation will enable to researchers to better predict and then better treat marijuana- and other drug-related problems.
Other research shows that psychiatric disorders earlier in childhood are strong predictors of marijuana use later on. So it's likely that if these disruptive behaviors are recognized earlier in life, we may be able to deliver therapies that will help prevent marijuana problems — and possibly problems with alcohol and other drugs, too.
Well, the jury verdict is in. Legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana does not ruin society or its teenagers, and in fact, it might actually help society. And, since smoking marijuana as a teenager could lead to an early death, this seems like good news to me.
The new study was published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Citations: As more states legalize marijuana, adolescents' problems with pot decline (Science Daily), As more states legalize marijuana, adolescents' problems with pot decline (Washington University School of Medicine), Declining Rates of Adolescent Marijuana Use Disorders During the Past Decade May Be Due to Declining Conduct Problems (Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry)