Getting high in senior year: Study examines reasons for smoking pot


Marijuana is the most prevalent drug in the U.S. Approximately 70% of the 2.8 million individuals who initiated use of illicit drugs in 2013 reported that marijuana was their first drug. Despite extensive research examining potential links between marijuana use and other drug use, the literature is currently lacking data regarding which illicit marijuana users are most likely to engage in use of other illicit drugs.

A new study, published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse by researchers affiliated with New York University's Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR), examines how reasons for illicit use relates to the use of other drugs individually, rather than grouping them into a single "" group.

"Aside from marijuana, a wide range of illicit drugs are prevalent, each having different use patterns, and different effects and dangers associated with use," said Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, a CDUHR affiliated researcher and an assistant professor of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center (NYULMC). "Our research helped to identify subtypes of illicit marijuana users who use other drugs, as this may be able to inform prevention efforts."

The cross-sectional study, "Reasons for Recent Marijuana Use in Relation to Use of Other Illicit Drugs among High School Seniors in the United States," draws data from Monitoring the Future (MTF), a nationwide ongoing annual study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students. The MTF survey is administered in approximately 130 public and private schools throughout 48 states in the US. Roughly 15,000 seniors are assessed annually.

Analyses focused on data collected from high school seniors (12th graders), in 12 cohorts (2000-2011; weighted N=6,481), who reported use of marijuana in the last 12 months. The analysis examined self-reported use of eight other illicit drugs: powder cocaine, crack, heroin, LSD, other psychedelics, and nonmedical use of amphetamine/stimulants, tranquilizers/benzodiazepines, and narcotics (other than heroin).

The researchers found that using marijuana to alleviate boredom was associated with increased risk for reporting use of powder cocaine or hallucinogens other than LSD. Nearly a fifth (19.8%) of the sample reported using marijuana for insight or understanding and this reason was also positively related to use of hallucinogens other than LSD. And, 11% reported using marijuana to increase the effects of other drugs; this was a consistent correlate of reporting use of each drug examined in this analysis, even when controlling for sociodemographic and substance use variables.

"Interestingly, we found that using marijuana 'to experiment' decreased risk of reporting use of each of the eight drugs examined before adjusting for other variables," said Palamar. "The marijuana users in this sample who used to experiment were consistently at low risk for use of nonmedical use of prescription narcotics."

Palamar warns that this does not mean that experimenting with marijuana within itself is protective against other drug use. Rather—among recent marijuana users, those who say they're merely just trying it are often at low risk for moving on to other drugs.

Researchers also found that infrequent use in the last year was generally not a risk factor for use of other illicit drugs.

"It seems that only a subset of illicit marijuana users is at risk for use of other illicit drugs," notes Palamar. "Most teens who use marijuana don't progress to use of other drugs and we believe this is evidenced in part by the fact that nearly two-thirds of these marijuana-using teens did not report use of any of the other illicit drugs we examined."

This study highlights different associations between reasons for marijuana use and use of other specific illicit drugs. These results can help inform preventive and education efforts in identifying and targeting specific risk factors in illicit marijuana users with aims to prevent the use of other drugs.

"Programs and education efforts, for example, can benefit from knowing that marijuana users who use because they are bored are more likely to use certain other drugs," said Palamar. "It may be feasible for prevention programs to address ways of coping with factors such as boredom in order to decrease risk."

Palamar notes that research is needed to determine whether legalization and regulation in states such as Colorado further remove marijuana from "street" markets which may contain sources of not just marijuana, but other illicit drugs.

Explore further

Study identifies teens at-risk for synthetic marijuana use

Citation: Getting high in senior year: Study examines reasons for smoking pot (2015, June 29) retrieved 21 July 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jun 29, 2015
It's interesting that an article about this kind of study does not reference previous work in this area. - The Drug Czar's own 1999 Institute of Medicine study of marijuana concluded the "gateway" theory is just a myth that does not operate in reality. This has been confirmed by every legitimate study since then.

In fact, SAMHSA research shows that for every 100 people who try marijuana, only ONE later becomes a regular consumer of illegal addictive, hard drugs.

Clearly, instead of being a gateway, marijuana is actually a TERMINUS drug - being the LAST one most people ever consume.

Jun 29, 2015
Ignoring the large body of research on this topic makes it appear this study is just propaganda based on junk science. - Another telling point is they excluded the most commonly used and most destructive recreational drug from the "study" - alcohol.

The big question that is not addressed is - are high school seniors substituting marijuana for alcohol? - If so, they have made a healthy decision.

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