Study: Legalizing medical marijuana has not increased teen pot use


October, 2010 photo of marijuana plant under grow lights at a warehouse in Denver.  (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Among the concerns of those who oppose legalization of marijuana for medical purposes was that one way or the other, the pot would find its way to young people and encourage more drug use. But the first comprehensive study of teen drug use in the states where marijuana is available for medical uses shows that it just hasn’t happened.

The study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, is sure to figure into the ongoing debate over the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.

The authors, led by Esther K. Choo, of Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, wrote:

Our study suggests that — at least thus far — the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes has not increased adolescent marijuana use, a finding supported by a growing body of literature.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia now permit use of marijuana for medical purposes, such as relieving pain from chemotherapy.

The researchers looked at reported marijuana use by teens in states where medical marijuana is now legal, both before and after the laws were passed. and compared those numbers with nearby states where pot remains illegal for all purposes, controlling for demographic factors such as gender, age and race that might affect the outcome.

The study used data gathered through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s anonymous Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance System survey, which is administered every other year by local and state schools to kids in ninth through twelfth grade.

Although pot use remains common among teens, with one-third saying they’d tried pot before and a fifth reporting use in the past month, the results of the study show medical marijuana laws didn’t increase pot use by teens in any state.

The authors don’t advocate anything as a result of study and advocates of legalization hoping to pass it around state legislatures may want to think twice before doing so.  The authors note that:

“Marijuana has a demonstrated impact on the still-developing adolescent brain” and that “in early adolescence, marijuana may have permanent detrimental effects on cognition. Marijuana has also been linked to schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders among adolescents. Longitudinal cohort studies of adolescents using marijuana found associations between use and later respiratory problems, general malaise, and neurocognitive problems, as well as social problems including lower academic achievement and functioning.”

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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