Earlier this week, the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP), released a study that claims a 24 percent decline in marijuana-related problems among teenagers, such as becoming dependent on the drug or having trouble in school and in relationships. The researchers also claim there is an association between drops in problems related to cannabis and reductions in behavioral issues, such as fighting, property crimes and selling drugs.
Pro-marijuana bloggers have picked this up as “proof” that legalization is not harmful to kids, but an editorial in the very same journal says that “no such inference is warranted.”
At first blush this study seems encouraging, however, there are several facts that are not consistent with media headlines and interpretations:
- The study examines data from 2002 to 2013, and thus does not examine any time period with retail marijuana legalization even though researchers state that they did look at legalization policies. Legalization was not in place until late 2012 in two states only, and retail sales started in 2014. Also, data show that marijuana use declined from 2002 to 2009, but increased after.
- The findings of this study contradict data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and the US Monitoring the Future Study which all show an increase in kids using marijuana and needing treatment.
- The article lumps together all states and does not differentiate between those with less restrictive “medical” marijuana policies and those with stricter controls.
- Finally, as Hopfer discusses in his editorial, it is possible “a decrease in conduct problems accounted for the decrease in the development of marijuana use disorders. Although this is not proof of a causal effect, one potential inference is that as marijuana use becomes more acceptable, more individuals without conduct or adult antisocial problems will use marijuana and that the risk of developing a use disorder is lower in individuals without comorbid conduct or adult antisocial problems.”
The legalization lobby will try and tout this research as proving that legalization works. In reality, legalization is ushering in the advent of marijuana candies and other kid-friendly items by big business. Colorado is the top state in the nation for youth marijuana use.
Problems related to marijuana in Colorado and Washington are mounting, as evidenced here, with an out-of-control marijuana industry focused on hooking kids and retaining lifelong customers. The World Health Organization report on marijuana found several negative effects for teens, including “several components of cognitive function, with the most robust effects on short term episodic and working memory, planning and decision-making, response speed, accuracy and latency.” The report also detailed studies that found “heavy cannabis use over several decades produced substantial declines in cognitive performance that may not be wholly reversible… (and) an association between poorer verbal memory and sustained daily use of cannabis throughout adult life.”