Prevalence of high school seniors' marijuana use is expected to increase with legalization

National support for marijuana ("cannabis") legalization is increasing in the United States (US). Recreational use was recently legalized in the states of Colorado and Washington; other states across the country are expected to follow suit. To date, an additional 15 states have decriminalized marijuana use, and 19 states and the District of Columbia now allow medical marijuana to be prescribed.

Now, a study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy by researchers affiliated with New York University's Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR), finds large proportions of students normally at low risk for use (e.g., non-cigarette-smokers, religious students, those with friends who disapprove of use) reported intention to use marijuana if it were legal.

The study, "Correlates of Intentions to Use Cannabis among US High School Seniors in the Case of Cannabis Legalization," used data from Monitoring the Future (MTF), a nation-wide ongoing study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary . The researchers found that ten percent of non-lifetime marijuana users surveyed by MTF reported that they would try marijuana if legal.

"Our study focused on intention to use and it was the first to find that groups generally not "at risk" become more "at risk" when legalized," said Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor at the Department of Population Health, NYU Langone Medical Center.

The researchers examined the most current attitudes, focusing on cohorts from 2007-2011. The data were collected prior to the legalization of recreational marijuana use in Colorado and Washington, but after legalization of was pending or enacted in up to 16 states.

Data were analyzed separately for the 6,116 seniors who reported no lifetime use of marijuana and the 3,829 seniors who reported lifetime use (weighted samples). The researchers looked at whether demographic characteristics, substance use and perceived friend disapproval towards marijuana use were associated with 1) intention to try marijuana among non-lifetime users, and 2) intention to use marijuana as often or more often among lifetime users, if marijuana was legal to use.

"Assuming that onset use would occur before or during the senior year, the study's results suggest that this would constitute a 5.6% absolute increase in lifetime prevalence in this age group, rising from 45.6% to 51.2%," said Dr. Palamar. "However, lifetime prevalence increases as adolescents age into adulthood. So by age 26, 64% of young adults in the US are expected to use marijuana in their lifetime in the current policy context. We don't know whether those found to be at risk in this study are the same adolescents that are going to use at an older age regardless of legal status."

Not surprisingly, odds for intention to use outcomes increased among groups already at high risk for use (e.g., males, whites, cigarette smokers) and odds were reduced when friends disapproved of use. However, large proportions of subgroups of students normally at low risk for use (e.g., non-cigarette-smokers, religious students, those with friends who disapprove of use) reported intention to try marijuana if legal. Recent use was also a risk factor for reporting intention to use as often or more often among lifetime users.

"What I personally find interesting is the reasonably high percentage of students who are very religious, non-cigarette smokers, non-drinkers, and those who have friends who disapprove of marijuana use—who said they intended to try marijuana if it was legal," said Dr. Palamar. "This suggests that many people may be solely avoiding use because it is illegal, not because it is "bad" for you, or "wrong" to use."

The researchers caution that as marijuana use increases, regardless of legal status, it will become increasingly important to prevent adverse consequences that may be associated with use. Public health practitioners must continue to educate marijuana users and those at risk for initiation and/or continued use about the potential harms associated with use. Likewise, the researchers stress the need to address drug use through more of a public health paradigm and treat use as a health issue and less of a moral issue.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Survey: US teens using synthetic drugs less often

Dec 18, 2013

Fewer teens are trying fake marijuana known by such names as K2 and Spice, apparently getting the message that these cheap new drugs are highly dangerous, according to the government's annual survey on drug ...

New York may allow medical marijuana use: report

Jan 05, 2014

New York is planning to loosen its marijuana laws to allow limited use of the drug by people suffering serious illness, the New York Times reported Saturday, citing state officials.

Patients curious about medical marijuana treatments

Jan 16, 2014

Ever since medical marijuana became legal in Illinois on Jan. 1, Loyola University Medical Center neurologist and multiple sclerosis specialist Dr. Matthew McCoyd has been inundated with questions from his patients.

Recommended for you

ER visits on the rise, study reports

3 hours ago

(HealthDay)—The number of emergency department visits in the United States rose from about 130 million in 2010 to a record 136 million in 2011, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Better assessment of decision-making capacity

8 hours ago

Physicians often find it hard to tell if a patient suffering from dementia or depression is capable of making sound judgements. This is shown by a study conducted within the scope of the National Research Programme "End of ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JamesG
not rated yet Feb 25, 2014
Legalization of pot is nothing more than a tax. The only motivation is money for the government.
tjcoop3
not rated yet Apr 14, 2014
"What I personally find interesting is the reasonably high percentage of students who are very religious, non-cigarette smokers, non-drinkers, and those who have friends who disapprove of marijuana use—who said they intended to try marijuana if it was legal,"

This is not surprising since a rising percentage of people under 45, even those who consider themselves very religious, do not believe that cannabis use is wrong or immoral. This is a significant change from 20 yrs ago. Young people are no longer buying the BS propaganda, such as the last paragraph in this article and government refusal to remove it from Schedule 1, about the effects of cannabis.
With the exception of higher risk, such as with cigarettes, from inhaling tars and other chemicals produced by burning, there are few risks associated with it's use in adults. The effects from burning are eliminated when vaporization is used.
Further, most recent research seems to be saying there is little or no danger in it's use.
tjcoop3
not rated yet Apr 14, 2014
@ JamesG "Legalization of pot is nothing more than a tax. The only motivation is money for the government."
It is true that groups like NORML and others seem to have capitulated to taxes instead of total legalization. That is no reason not to support and advocate for it. Government always looks to control people's lives and taxation of cannabis will merely change the dynamic of the "War on Drugs".
Instead of going after dealers and users who occasionally sell an oz they will use the IRS and state treasurer to go after them for tax evasion. This is evil but that is the nature of all governments. See "Our Enemy the State" by Albert Jay Nock: http://archive.le...ck1.html
I am disappointed that NORML and others seem to care nothing about rights but only about availability. I get that it may be "better than nothing" but that does not mean it is best for all concerned. The prices are soaring creating a black market or true free economy which the state will likely pursue.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.