A new study has shown that legalizing medical cannabis does not cause an increase in the recreational use of the drug by adolescents. This result contradicts claims by many opponents that cannabis reform laws will only lead to an increase in teen weed consumption.
The study was conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and its findings are published in Addiction journal. It is more of a meta-analysis of pooled results from 11 separate studies that looked into data derived from four large-scale surveys in the U.S. dating 1991 to 2014. These surveys are:
- Monitoring the Future;
- National Longitudinal Survey of Youth;
- National Survey on Drug Use and Health; and
- Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
“For now, there is no basis for the argument that medical marijuana legalization has increased the consumption of cannabis among teenagers.” – Deborah Hasin, PhD, professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health
The researchers performed a meta-analysis and systematic review of the previous studies in order to determine how the legalization of medical cannabis in the country affects cannabis use among teens. Results of this meta-analysis show that there no significant changes – whether increase of decrease – occurred in teen cannabis use following the enactment of medical cannabis laws in certain states.
Deborah Hasin, PhD, the study’s senior author and a professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School, said in a press release that, for now, there is no basis for the argument that medical marijuana legalization has increased the consumption of cannabis among teenagers.
According to Hasin, of the 11 studies they looked into, none found significant changes in the past-month cannabis use following the passage of Medical Marijuana Laws within legalized states, compared to changes in non-legalized states.
However, she clarified, the situation may change as commercialized markets for medical cannabis expand and develop and as more states legalize recreational pot.
The researchers looked at cannabis use among teenagers in the past month before, as well as after, cannabis laws changed in various states. The researchers then compared this trend with the trends in non-legalized states.
Moreover, Hasin stated that although they found no significant effect on teenage cannabis consumption, existing evidence suggests that recreational cannabis use among adults may rise after medical cannabis laws are passed. The $8 billion cannabis industry, she added, is expected to grow threefold by 2025, and obtaining solid evidence on the beneficial and harmful effects of cannabis laws on adults is highly crucial considering the strong economic pressures to expand the marijuana market.
Hasin also pointed out that more research should explore the intensity of cannabis use in adolescents. This, she said, would warrant additional consideration, especially given the decrease in the national trend of risk perception among teenagers and given that the current perception leads to more commercial opportunities for cannabis, as well as more medical cannabis stores.
It is worth noting that medical cannabis has now been legalized in 29 states in the country.
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Meanwhile, a separate group of experts have addressed another argument against medical cannabis legalization. It is the claim that medical cannabis reduces the number of deaths connected to opioid overdose by offering a safer way to manage pain.
This claim was addressed in an editorial published in “Addiction.” The editorial was written by members of the journal’s editorial board.
The editorial cited clear, albeit weak, evidence rooted in ecological studies whose findings have not been confirmed with the help of more rigorous methods. These studies have shown a correlation between the opioid overdose death rates and the passage of medical cannabis laws over time, but they do not provide solid evidence that medical cannabis laws directly contributed to the reduction in these deaths.
The truth of the matter is that several recent studies suggest that patients suffering from chronic pain who use medical cannabis do not use opioids in lower doses. There could be more plausible reasons for reduced opioid deaths that should be looked into.