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Adolescent Cannabis Addiction Treatment Decreased After Legalization

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New research published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence suggests recreational cannabis legalization in Washington state and Colorado has not led to an increase in adolescent treatment admissions for the plant.

Study author Jeremy Mennis, a professor of geography and urban studies at Temple University, said, “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.”

According to research published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2019, there could be some connection between adolescent cannabis consumption and the development of major depression, anxiety and suicidal behavior. This research highlights that 413,326 adolescent depression instances could be attributable to cannabis use.

Mennis’s study analyzed data from between 2008 and 2017. This data, collected by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, tracks admissions to publicly-funded substance use treatment facilities in the U.S.

During this study, the researchers revealed a decline in the rate of cannabis treatment admissions in the United States. Furthermore, the declining admission rate is occurring faster for the adolescent population in Washington and Colorado after legalization.

“Recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington was not associated with an increase in admissions to treatment for cannabis use disorder among adolescents,” Mennis explained the findings to PsyPost. “This may be because legalization did not increase adolescent marijuana use, or for a number of 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.”

Even with the data showing this decline, there’s a chance it might reflect changes in treatment-seeking behaviors as opposed to a drop 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,” explained Mennis. “However, national survey data indicates that the perception of marijuana as harmful is declining, and among adults, marijuana use is increasing.”

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services found adolescent disapproval of other people using cannabis regularly is also declining. In 2006, 83 percent of high school seniors disapproved of adults smoking cannabis regularly. But just a decade later, only 69 percent disapproved.

“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,” Mennis further explained. “We might also extend this research to other age groups, and investigate whether marijuana legalization is associated with changes in use disorder for other illicit substances.”

“Adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana following recreational legalization in Colorado and Washington” was authored by Jeremy Mennis and Gerald J. Stahler. As more unbiased research is published, it will reveal the real impact cannabis legalization has had on American society.

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