Teen Marijuana Use Is On The Rise, Increasing 10-fold Since the 90s

Kimberly Zapata

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The last few decades have been game-changing for weed. In 1996, California became the first state to approve medical marijuana; in 2012, Colorado and Washington approved the drug for recreational use; and since then, 33 states have passed laws legalizing marijuana in some form. So it should come as no surprise that marijuana use is on the rise, particularly among teens and young adults. But just how much? According to a new study, teen marijuana use has increased tenfold since the 90s.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, analyzed data from more than 200,000 high school students. Researchers found that the number who said they’d used pot at least once over the past month increased from 0.6 percent in 1991 to 6.3 percent by 2017, and the number of “dual users” — those who consume both marijuana and alcohol — doubled.

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Study author and associate professor at the University of Nebraska Dr. Hongying Dai believes the reason for the increase is two-fold. “ Public opinion on marijuana use have changed dramatically, and restrictions on marijuana use have been relaxing,” Dai told HealthDay. However, she finds the results troubling.

“The adolescent brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex areas that control judgment and decision-making, is not fully developed until the early 20s,” Dr. David Fagan told HealthDay, and there are “ multiple longitudinal studies that link marijuana use with higher rates of mental health disorders, such as depression and psychosis, raising concerns about longer-term psychiatric effects.” 

That said, there was some good news: While marijuana use increased, tobacco use decreased. According to the study, teen smoking has dropped from 4.4 percent to just 1.3 percent, and teens are drinking far less. In 1991, 24 percent of the surveyed teens reported ingesting alcohol but in 2017, that number dropped to 12.5 percent. Still, this study proves continuing education and research is necessary. It is critical we address “marijuana prevention among youths,” Dai said.

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