A new study has found that high schoolers are not as likely to use cannabis following the drug’s legalization. This finding weakens prior claims that youth who know or think that their friends, siblings or parents use cannabis may have a heightened risk for marijuana use and additional intervention and prevention strategies need to be implemented to reduce said risk.
The study, which was carried out by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, included associate professor Jennifer Whitehill of health policy and management and Public Health and Health Sciences doctoral candidate, Faith English. Whitehill’s focus, as the study’s senior author, was assessing whether the link between perceived cannabis use by friends and family, a risk factor for adolescent cannabis use, changed in the context of legalization.
For their study, the researchers conducted an analysis of data gathered from a pair of high schools in Massachusetts. They then compared data from two years: before marijuana was legalized and after retail stores were launched. They observed no significant difference in the prevalence of cannabis use in a 30-day period.
Among the participants surveyed prior to legalization, 27% and 19% of males and females respectively, reported that they used cannabis in the last 30 days. In the survey conducted after legalization, 28% and 20% of males and females respectively reported cannabis use in the last 30 days. They also observed that following legalization, the percentage of adolescents who reported that their parents used cannabis grew to 24% from 18%.
Currently, the recreational use of cannabis is fully legal in 24 states and the District of Columbia. In legal states, individuals aged 21 years and older are allowed to purchase and possess cannabis for recreational use. The researchers also discovered that perceived use of cannabis by a best friend, in comparison to perceived use by other parties, had the strongest link with cannabis use by teenagers.
The study’s findings can help inform public health guidelines and policy in the state of Massachusetts as well as other states rolling out marijuana laws.
English, who was the lead author of the study, is also interested in how legalization of marijuana influences youth contact with the justice system. In her dissertation, she assesses trends in marijuana-related discipline in a school setting and uses qualitative interviews with adolescents to understand their experiences with and perspectives on discipline in a school setting.
The study’s findings were reported in a special issue of “Clinical Therapeutics.”
This study shows that opponents of legalization have no scientific basis to malign the entire cannabis industry, together with its leading players such as Aurora Cannabis Inc. (NASDAQ: ACB) (TSX: ACB), for allegedly commercializing a product that would become increasingly accessible to kids. The data disproves such a claim.
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