The legalization of recreational cannabis in Colorado and Washington state was not associated with increases in adolescent treatment admissions for the drug, according to new research published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
“The growth of marijuana legalization represents a dramatic change in drug policy from previous decades. It’s important to understand the public health implications, particularly for adolescents, for whom frequent marijuana use may be particularly harmful,” said study author Jeremy Mennis, a professor of geography and urban studies at Temple University.
The researchers examined data collected between 2008 and 2017 by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which tracks admissions to publicly-funded substance use treatment facilities. They found that the rate of cannabis treatment admissions in the United States had declined over time. In addition, compared to other states, the rate of admission declined more rapidly among adolescents in Colorado and Washington following the legalization of cannabis.
“Recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington was not associated with an increase in admissions to treatment for cannabis use disorder among adolescents. This may be because legalization did not increase adolescent marijuana use, or for a number other reasons. Interestingly, nationally, adolescent treatment admissions for cannabis use disorder have been declining recently, including in Colorado and Washington, even as national marijuana use among adolescents has remained relatively stable,” Mennis told PsyPost.
However, it is possible that the decline in treatment admissions reflects changes in treatment seeking behaviors rather than changes in problematic cannabis use.
“It may still be too early to see the effects of recreational marijuana legalization on adolescent cannabis use disorder or on treatment admissions. However, national survey data indicates that the perception of marijuana as harmful is declining, and among adults, marijuana use is increasing,” Mennis explained.
“Marijuana legalization can also increase the accessibility and social acceptance of marijuana, so it’s important to continue to monitor cannabis use disorder and treatment admissions to ensure treatment needs are met. We might also extend this research to other age groups, and investigate whether marijuana legalization is associated with changes in use or use disorder for other illicit substances.”
The study, “Adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana following recreational legalization in Colorado and Washington“, was authored by Jeremy Mennis and Gerald J. Stahler.