Study: Legalizing medical marijuana doesn’t increase use among adolescents

In Children, Top Stories by David Silverberg

Worries about medical marijuana legalization leading to a rise in cannabis use among youth is all just unneccessary hand-wringing, according to a new study.

According to a new study at Rhode Island Hospital which compared 20 years worth of data from states with and without medical marijuana laws, legalizing medical marijuana did not give rise to increased use among adolescents. The study is published online in advance of print in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“Any time a state considers legalizing medical marijuana, there are concerns from the public about an increase in drug use among teens,” said principal investigator Esther Choo, M.D., an attending physician in the department of emergency medicine at Rhode Island Hospital. “In this study, we examined 20 years worth of data, comparing trends in self-reported adolescent marijuana use between states with medical marijuana laws and neighboring states without the laws, and found no increase in marijuana use that could be attributed to the law.”

Choo added, “This adds to a growing body of literature published over the past three years that is remarkably consistent in demonstrating that state medical marijuana policies do not have a downstream effect on adolescent drug use, as we feared they might.”

The study data showed that past-month marijuana use was common, at nearly 21 percent of the study population. But there were no statistically significant differences in marijuana use before and after policy changes in any state pairing.

“Researchers should continue to monitor and measure marijuana use,” Choo said. “But we hope that this information will provide some level of reassurance to policymakers, physicians, and parents about medical marijuana laws.”

A March 2014 study found in regard to academic performance, marijuana-only users tended to fare better in academic performance than those who both smoke pot and cigarettes, and those who only smoke cigarettes. The study said this result “may account for the fact that the more cigarettes are stigmatized, the less likely intelligent people are to smoke them. However, the study authors note that marijuana users do not outperform non-users.”

Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Canada, Amsterdam and Israel are also among several countries that legalized medical marijuana.

Photo credit: MATBAZMAL