After the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state of Washington in 2012, its use among adolescents increased while the perceived risks associated with it dropped. According to a recent study, adolescents in the eighth and 10th grade are less concerned about the negative effects of the use of marijuana.
The research, carried out at the University of California, Davis, was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics and it raised an alarm concerning marijuana use among adolescents.
A Serious Situation
Colorado and Washington state were the first to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in 2012.
For the study, 253,902 Colorado and Washington state students in the eighth, 10th, and 12th grades were surveyed about self-reported marijuana use and the associated harms they perceive might impact smokers.
Among Washington state teens in the eighth grade, the perceived negative effects of marijuana use dropped by 14.2 percent after legalization, while for the ones in the 10th grade the rate dropped by 16.1 percent. As for use, it increased by 2.0 percent and 4.1 percent among eighth and 10th graders, respectively. However, when it comes to adolescents in the 12th grade, there was no change concerning the use of recreational marijuana.
As for the Colorado teens, the researchers found that there were no significant differences in the prevalence and perceived harmfulness of recreational marijuana use before and after legalization across the three grade levels.
Although the study could not explain the discrepancy between the consumption rate in Colorado and the one in Washington, one of the researchers hypothesized why this is so.
Magdalena Cerdá, an epidemiologist with the UCD Violence Prevention Research Program and first author of the research, said there might have been a connection between the numbers in Colorado and the advertising of medical marijuana dispensaries.
That people already knew about and used medical marijuana almost freely before recreational marijuana was legalized might have influenced the steady rates of the state post-legalization, Cerdá offered.
Cerdá said that it is alarming how recreational marijuana use has increased among adolescents, as the legalization only allows adults to smoke pot.
Impact Of Marijuana Legalization
The research noted that awareness should be built when it comes to adolescents and their attitude toward marijuana use. States legalizing the use of recreational marijuana should also invest in substance use prevention programs for adolescents. Additionally, educational efforts should be conducted through all possible leverages, as teens may think the substance is harmless.
"With parental attitudes being more permissive about the agent, children tend to follow their parents and what their parents do. If parental perception of harm is decreased, children will follow the example of their parents," noted Dr. Scott Krakower, the assistant unit chief of psychiatry for Zucker Hillside Hospital in New Hyde Park, New York. "Combine that with a legalized market where you can readily buy it and it will be easier to obtain, and children will be more likely to use it."