A new U.S.-based government study has found that there is a surge in the number of young people using cannabis as their first drug.
According to the study, which was conducted by researchers from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the number of young Americans aged 12 to 21 who turned first to weed almost doubled from 4.4% in 2004 to 8% in 2014. The study also revealed that the number of young people who tried cigarettes as their first “drug” fell from 21% to just under 9% in the same 10-year period.
The study was published in the journal Prevention Science.
How the study was conducted
The researchers examined nationally representative data from over 275,000 young people between 12 and 21 years old.
This study is based on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, conducted from 2004 to 2014. This is an annual survey involving participants across all of the 50 states in the country and who are interviewed in person. It also involves questions that are related to the use of cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco, as well as other prohibited drugs.
Findings of the study
It was found that about 8% of the respondents in 2014 reported that pot was the very first drug they had ever used. This number was almost twice the number that was reported in 2004, which was 4.8%. This rise in cannabis use, according to the researchers, could be related to a drop in the rate of young smokers – from 21% in 2004 to 9% in 2014 – or the increasing number of young people – 36% in 2004 to 46% in 2014 – who abstained from substance use altogether.
Meanwhile, the number of young people surveyed who reported that alcohol is their first drug remained fairly the same at about 30%.
The study also found that the trend is especially noticeable in specific ethnic groups. The researchers have found that the young people who used weed as their first foray into drugs were more likely males with black, Hispanic, Native American or multiracial backgrounds.
What’s more, once sex, ethnicity, and age were factored in, the researchers found that those young people who smoked pot first were more likely to be heavy weed users now and have cannabis use disorder compared to those who used some other substances first.
Additionally, those who smoked weed first were just as likely to have a nicotine dependency in the future as those who used cigarettes first. Also, those who used either weed or alcohol first were more likely to report the use of other substances, such as heroin, compared to those who used tobacco products first.
What the experts have to say
In a statement, Brian Fairman, a researcher at the NICHHD, said that their findings suggest relevant targets for the prevention of cannabis use and public health intervention, especially among Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native youth as they are less likely to have access to successful treatment outcomes.
According to Fairman, young people who started off on cannabis before tobacco or alcohol were more likely to have cannabis-related problems or to become heavy pot users later in life. In this light, he recommended that drug prevention strategies be established and targeted at various groups depending on their risk factor for using alcohol, tobacco, or cannabis first.
Dr. Renee Johnson of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health explained that they have done prevention programs, particularly in the U.S., that are focused on tobacco and alcohol and that they are easy arguments to present to young people. However, she pointed out that the fear factor is more difficult to apply when it comes to cannabis.
Johnson contended that public programs instead need to educate the young people and equip them to make the right decisions when it comes to drugs, as well as to offer support in order for them cope with the difficulties in life.