Brain and Body

Adolescent Pot-Related Problems Are Declining Despite Increased Marijuana Legalization

May 26, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Cannabis leaf
Photo credit: JonRichfield/Wikipedia (CC by SA 3.0)

General marijuana use among teens is also dropping

According to a survey of over 216,000 adolescents from all 50 states, the number of teens with marijuana-related problems is declining, despite increased marijuana decriminalization and legalization.

After analyzing data on drug-use collected from young people aged 12 to 17 over a 12-year timeframe, the scientists from Washington University School of Medicine found that the number of adolescents who had pot-related problems declined by 24 percent from 2002 to 2013.

Further, over the same time period, the teens were asked whether they’d used marijuana in the previous 12 months, and from 2002 to 2013, the overall general use dropped by 10 percent.

Interestingly, these drops were accompanied by decreases in behavioral problems, like fighting, shoplifting, selling drugs, and bringing weapons to school. The researchers claim that these two trends are connected — as kids become less prone to problem behaviors, they also become less likely to have problems with marijuana.

"We were surprised to see substantial declines in marijuana use and abuse," the study's first author, Richard A. Grucza, associate professor of psychiatry, said in a media release. "We don't know how legalization is affecting young marijuana users, but it could be that many kids with behavioral problems are more likely to get treatment earlier in childhood, making them less likely to turn to pot during adolescence.”

“But whatever is happening with these behavioral issues, it seems to be outweighing any effects of marijuana decriminalization,” he continued.

The results, which are published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, were gathered from data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Abuse. Young people from different racial, ethnic, and income groups were included.

"Other research shows that psychiatric disorders earlier in childhood are strong predictors of marijuana use later on," Grucza said. "So it's likely that if these disruptive behaviors are recognized earlier in life, we may be able to deliver therapies that will help prevent marijuana problems -- and possibly problems with alcohol and other drugs, too."

Read next: In a Historic Move, DEA Grants Full Approval for First-Ever Clinical Marijuana Trial for PTSD

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