AUSTIN, Texas — Since 2002, the proportion of adolescents reporting marijuana use has decreased, and more younger adolescents report strong disapproval of marijuana use initiation, according to new research from The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work.
The findings could provide guidance to policymakers and educators who are focused on marijuana use.
The study, led by social work professor Christopher Salas-Wright and published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, examined the perceptions and use of marijuana among youths in the United States between 2002 and 2013.
Changes were particularly marked among younger adolescents (ages 12-14), as study findings point to a 25 percent decline — from 6 percent in 2002 to 4.5 percent in 2013 — in the relative proportion of youths reporting marijuana use in the previous 12 months, and an increase from 74 percent to 79 percent reporting strong disapproval of marijuana use initiation.
“Our results may suggest that recent changes in public policy, including the decriminalization, medicalization and legalization of marijuana in cities and states across the country, have not resulted in more use or greater approval of marijuana use among younger adolescents,” Salas-Wright said.
The study was co-authored by Michael Vaughn of Saint Louis University’s School of Social Work, graduate student Jelena Todic of The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Social Work, and David Córdova and Brian Perron of the University of Michigan.
Among older adolescents (ages 15-17), no difference was observed with respect to trends in marijuana disapproval, but the proportion of older adolescents reporting marijuana use during the previous year declined from 26 percent in 2002 to 22 percent in 2013.
A somewhat different pattern was observed among young adults (ages 18-25). The study identified a downward trend in disapproval of marijuana use among young adults, with 41 percent reporting strong disapproval in 2002 and 23 percent in 2013. However, no corresponding spike in marijuana use was observed within this age group, as results indicate only a modest increase from 30 to 32 percent of young adults reporting marijuana use during the previous year between 2002 and 2013.
“Recent policy changes and increasing exposure to marijuana as perhaps normative or no longer immoral may be influencing how young adults feel about others using marijuana, but not necessarily impacting their own use,” Vaughn said.
“Overall, our results suggest that important changes are underway in the perception and use of marijuana among American youth,” Salas-Wright said. “While our results reflect trends among youth at the national level, we were not able to look at localized differences in particular cities or states. As such, it is possible that we may see different patterns in areas more directly influenced by changes in marijuana policy.”
The study used nationally representative data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health spanning the period of 2002-2013. Analyses are based on self-reported questions from 105,903 younger adolescents (ages 12-14); 110,949 older adolescents (ages 15-17); and 221,976 young adults (ages 18-25).
University of Texas-Austin/July 13, 2015
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