Study: Medical Cannabis Programs Do Not Increase Cannabis Use Among Teens & Young Adults

A new study has found that states with some form of legalized medical cannabis have not seen an uptick in the usage rates of adolescents and young adults.

The study— conducted by researchers at Columbia University, the University of California, and Boston University — examined 10 years of survey data collected annually from 2004-2013 from those who responded to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health. Over 53,800 people completed the surveys, which are distributed annually by the government.

The researchers then looked at those responding from states that had some form of medical cannabis legalization on the books. This included Connecticut, New Mexico, Michigan, Arizona, Delaware, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Illinois.

Their research found that rates of cannabis use among people under the age of 26 went unchanged with the adoption of medical cannabis regimes. However, the researchers did discover that usage rates among people 26 and over actually increased after their states legalized the substance, by a margin of 1.3 percent.

According to the study’s author, Dr. Silvia Martins, the results are roughly what is to be expected. An increase in cannabis use among adults, she says, may be attributable to adults suffering from medical conditions that are treatable through the use of medical cannabis.

“The laws seem to be working as expected with little unintended consequences for youth and young adults to date,” says Martins, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City. “There were fears that once medical marijuana laws were enacted and marijuana became more easily available, it would be diverted to recreational use by youth as well as adults… It’s harder for [young people] to access it for recreational purposes and most of the medical indications of marijuana are for ailments that typically affect a larger proportion of older adults.”

She went on to say that it remains more difficult for young people to access cannabis for recreational purposes, since the substance is better regulated now that its use is at least partially measurable by the state. She stated her belief that continued study into the issue can result in a greater understanding of the effects of different cannabis laws on the population.

“Understanding how the passage of medical marijuana laws affects different age groups improves our understanding of the effects of marijuana policies and provides information about the types of public health responses that should accompany major policy changes related to marijuana,” she said.

The study is not the only survey to find that cannabis use among adolescents in states with more liberalized laws governing the substance has not been affected. A study recently appeared in the journal Lancet Psychiatry which found that adolescent use in a state goes all but unchanged after the state decides to legalize the substance for medicinal use.

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Author: John Winston

John Winston is a New York City-based journalist and a media advisor for

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