Recreational marijuana is driving more young teens to smoke in states with legalization and may be normalizing pot use among young Americans.
Marijuana use is up by a large margin among 8th and 10th graders in Washington state since officials legalized recreational weed in 2014. Perceptions of how harmful marijuana is dropped among 8th graders in the state by 14 percent and 16 percent among 10th graders, leaving health officials concerned that legalization is normalizing the habit among children.
Pot use among 8th graders in the state increased by roughly 2 percent and by 4 percent among 10th graders. Perceptions of marijuana’s harms also dropped significantly in Colorado, but marijuana use among teens remained stable, according to a joint university study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
The study reveals a stark difference in teen use in states with legalized weed than states that still prohibit the substance. The annual Monitoring the Future survey in December, which relies on student self-reporting, found that marijuana accessibility and use are down among 8th and 10th graders nationally. The numbers in Washington are leaving health officials anxious over the potential unintended consequences of recreational marijuana legalization.
“While legalization for recreational purposes is currently limited to adults, potential impacts on adolescent marijuana use are of particular concern,” Magdalena Cerdá, a researcher at UC Davis and lead author of the study, told PsyPost. “Some adolescents who try marijuana will go on to chronic use, with an accompanying range of adverse outcomes, from cognitive impairment to downward social mobility, financial, work-related and relationship difficulties.”
Researchers also found that in states without legalization, perceptions of the harms of marijuana dropped by 5 percent among 8th graders and 7 percent among 10th graders, but use was down nearly 1 percent in both groups. Marijuana perceptions and use remained roughly stagnant in older grade levels, mirroring the results of the national Monitoring the Future survey.
Researchers suggest legalization in Washington state is the catalyst behind the recent change in youth marijuana use, but admit it could also be a byproduct of lower prices and shifting perceptions on marijuana nationally. The study concludes that more research is needed into the various impacts of legalization laws to fully understand adverse effects on teens. Marijuana’s designation as a Schedule I drug, however, means federally-approved research is difficult to attain.
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