The teen marijuana use has fallen to its lowest level in over two decades, the recently published federal survey data released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that. The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), published on Sep. 7, 2017, indicates that 6.5 percent of American youths aged 12 to 17 were the marijuana users in the past month. This percentage is lower than most years between 2009 and 2014 but nearly the same as 2015. The last time such low levels were recorded was in 1994.
The data also highlights that teen weed consumption has fallen consistently since 2014, the year in which recreational marijuana laws were first enacted in Washington and Colorado. Despite the use reaching historic lows among teens, adult pot use continues to rise. In 2016, adult marijuana use surged to the highest level since 1985 – 20.8 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds used marijuana at least monthly and 7.2 percent of those aged 26 or older were reported to be current users.
The latest NSDUH statistics show that the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana by some states for adults has not increased consumption levels among minors. Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment data, published in January 2017, shows that adolescent marijuana consumption has not changed since legalization. All such trends are contrary to the dire predictions of legalization critics and opponents who had warned that unrestricted access to marijuana would “send the wrong message” to adolescents and lead to the widespread use and misuse.
Regulating adult marijuana restricts access by teens
Since adolescent brains are in a developmental stage, there are greater concerns regarding drug usage in this population than among adults. Past research has found that even after a month of monitored abstinence, adolescents who regularly smoked marijuana exhibited deficiencies related to learning, cognitive flexibility, visual scanning, error commission and working memory. They are also likely to develop addiction, and indulge in risky and criminal behavior.
Advocates of legalization assert that the messaging that marijuana should be used by responsible adults appears to be “sinking in.” Morgan Fox, a senior communications manager for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), states that regulating marijuana for adults “creates effective mechanisms for making it more difficult for teens to obtain marijuana.” Fox adds that marijuana is “objectively less harmful than alcohol”, and regulating substances provides adults with the option of selecting the safer one. Other advocates argue that entrusting marijuana sales in the hands of responsible retailers out from the unregulated criminal market will restrict access by teens.
Although the SAMHSA report indicates stable or decreasing trends of teen marijuana use, it found that it was the most commonly used illicit drug in 2016, followed by prescription painkillers. Past research shows that cannabis is increasingly being used for therapeutic purposes as a substitute for prescription painkillers, alcohol and other illicit drugs. Although marijuana is considered a relatively safer drug, it is still associated with several short-term and long-term adverse effects, especially in the case of adolescents.
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