Does Legalizing Pot Spur Kids to Try It?

In 2 states studied, teens downplayed harms after recreational pot legalized; use increased in 1 state

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Dec. 27, 2016 (HealthDay News) — States that legalize recreational marijuana use may be sending a message to teens that pot is harmless, a new study suggests.

Fewer teenagers in Washington and Colorado saw marijuana as risky to their health following approval of recreational use by voters in those states, researchers report.

Washington also saw an increase in recreational pot use among 8th and 10th graders following legalization there.

“With legalization, marijuana use became less stigmatized and adolescents were more likely to use it,” said study author Magdalena Cerda. She is an epidemiologist with the University of California, Davis, Violence Prevention Research Program.

However, the study did not prove that legalizing recreational use of marijuana caused teens to find it less harmful or be more likely to try it.

In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana use. Six states — Alaska, Oregon, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — along with Washington, D.C., have since followed suit.

Cerda and her colleagues examined federal survey data to determine whether legalization had any impact on marijuana use and perceptions of risk among 8th, 10th and 12th graders in Washington and Colorado.

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse funds the annual survey, which questions teenagers about their behaviors, attitudes and values. Nearly 254,000 Colorado and Washington state students participated in the survey during the period in question.

Perceptions of marijuana’s harmfulness decreased dramatically in Washington following legalization, falling by 14 percent and 16 percent among 8th and 10th graders.

About 61 percent of 8th graders and 47 percent of 10th graders in Washington saw marijuana as greatly or moderately risky to health in 2013-2015, compared with 75 percent and 63 percent in 2010-2012, the findings showed.

Washington teens’ pot use increased during the same period, by 2 percent for 8th graders and 4 percent for 10th graders, researchers found. By 2013-2015, about 8 percent of 8th graders and 20 percent of 10th graders said they’d used marijuana within the past month.

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