The effects of cannabis are still a hotly debated issue. The stigma surrounding marijuana has made the general public wary of legalization, and one of the most common arguments is that legalizing marijuana will harm children.
We know that marijuana has a negative influence on developing brains – but how does legalization affect cannabis use among minors? With the de-stigmatization and rapid decriminalization and legalization of cannabis, it is now possible to conduct in-depth research on this topic.
Scientific consensus requires results which are clear, reproducible, and which do not contradict each other. Different research teams across the globe have come to the same set of conclusions – let’s review them.
The first study that we’re going to be dealing with today was conducted by researchers from Montana, California, Oregon, and Colorado. It was published in JAMA Pediatrics. The researchers analyzed more than 1.4 million student surveys from 1993 to 2017.
Because so many states have only just recently legalized cannabis, it is possible to observe the data and find the changes which occur after legalization. The anonymous form of the high-school surveys also guarantees a large degree of validity. The surveys used were the CDC’s annual Youth Risk Behavior Surveys.
The objectives of this study were to evaluate the trends in single, dual, or poly use of marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes. From this information, the effects of legalization on teen cannabis use can be extrapolated. To make sure that these findings are valid, a sample size of 1,414,826 surveys has been analyzed.
The data collected by the CDC surveys was analyzed with a focus on many different factors. The researchers compared the data from states which have legalized recreational and medical cannabis with the data from states which have not. That large scale analysis can already tell us something about the trends of teen cannabis use.
Next, the results of pre-legalization and post-legalization surveys were compared in states which have legalized cannabis. This line of questioning can tell us if legalization causes an increase or a decrease in teen cannabis use.
Finally, the data on cannabis use was cross-checked and correlated with the use of alcohol and cigarettes. This step of the process can give us information on whether legalization reduces or increases alcohol and cigarette use among teenagers – and how often and in what circumstances minors use these substances in combination with cannabis.
The findings of this study have given us results which are not unheard of – legalization does not encourage the use of cannabis among teenagers. There is no evidence to support the claim that more teenagers will use cannabis post-legalization.
In fact, the legalization of cannabis can even inhibit the use of the substance among teenagers. Researchers suggest that this is because the black market shrinks, and illegal drug dealers are replaced by reputable establishments under strict watch. Illicitly sourcing cannabis is much harder to do when the business is required to ask for an ID.
There is also a number of other findings which are interesting. The dual use of alcohol and marijuana is increasing – but this happens regardless of whether a state legalizes cannabis.
The overall use of cannabis among teens is increasing – but once again, this doesn’t seem to be tied to legalization. The dual of marijuana and cigarettes has reduced tenfold – from 11.8 percent of teens surveyed in 1991 to just 1.7 percent in 2017.
Teens are much more likely than ever to only use cannabis, discarding alcohol and cigarettes completely. The number of teens who only use cannabis is at an all-time high – 6.3 percent, up from just 0.6 percent back in 1991.
Another finding – unsurprising as it may be, is that the availability of medical marijuana does not increase teenage usage.
The results of this study have been called “the most credible to date,” due to the large sample size and analytic focus on the effects of policy change. Previous researchers have come to the same conclusions – but this time, the evidence is rock solid.
A Second Opinion
A similar study was recently done by doctor Daisy Hongying Dai from the University of Nebraska. It was published in The American Journal of Public Health. It also followed the single, dual, and poly use of alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana among US high school students. Her study analyzed Youth Risk Behavior Surveys from 1991 to 2017.
Dr. Dai’s study analyzed the data to calculate the annual percentage changes and linear trends of these behaviors. Her findings match up with the previous study.
The only additional change that she noticed had to do with the prevalence of cannabis use among teens that belong to minority ethnic and racial groups. According to her paper, the only noticeable and rapid changes to these behaviors can be seen with teens from minority groups.
What Actionable Conclusions Can We Draw from the Findings?
Most importantly, legalizing cannabis does not pose a risk to children. These findings prove that statement to be true. Efforts to legalize cannabis nationwide will be strengthened by these findings.
The positive effects of less tobacco and alcohol use should also be taken into account. Marijuana use among teenagers shouldn’t and can’t be encouraged – but if these findings also apply to adults, cannabis can be marketed as a safer alternative to cigarettes and alcohol.
However, overall teen cannabis use is increasing. These troubling findings should serve as a warning to the industry to double down on ID checks and safety measures. If the cannabis market doesn’t respond in time, these findings can be easily used to justify more stifling regulations.
However, the bigger picture is largely positive. The cannabis industry can now use legitimate proof that legalization does not harmfully impact teenagers – this is the most actionable conclusion of these two studies. These studies are real treasure troves of data which can be used to improve the cannabis industry and reduce harm among teenagers.