Marijuana Use on the Rise; No Longer Seen As ‘Risky’ by Most

A recent national survey shows that marijuana use is becoming more acceptable by adults in the U.S.

States have grown softer on marijuana laws over the past decade, with the legalization for both medical and recreational use in the states of Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Alaska. While marijuana use remains illegal under federal law, dozens of states have legalized medical marijuana. Moreover, personal use is legal in Washington DC, though commercial sale is not.

Over half a million adults participated in the government survey over 12 years. The survey found that the attitude toward marijuana has shifted. More people are using marijuana more often, and fewer people believe that smoking pot is risky. In fact, in 2002, around 50% of adults believed weekly use of marijuana was risky, while only a third believed this in 2014.

Dr. Wilson Compton, the deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and lead author of the study, which was published recently by the journal, Lancet Psychiatry, says that this belief of marijuana as safe contradicts scientific research about the drug.

As quoted by ABC News, Compton states, “If anything, science has shown an increasing risk that we weren’t as aware of years ago.”

The research Compton is referring to indicates that marijuana influences mental impairment, and that heavy early use of the drug may cause people with particular genes to develop psychosis.

In the report, comparisons were made between the use and perception of marijuana between 2002 and 2014. Across these twelve years, daily usage of marijuana has doubled to 3.5 percent of adults in the U.S. (8.4 million adults). In 2002, 1 in 10 adults said they used pot within the past year; this has increased to 1 in 8 adults, while the total number of marijuana users has grown to 32 million. Perception of marijuana use changed largely in 2006-2007. No reported increase in marijuana use disorders – like withdrawal symptoms, cravings, depression, sleeplessness, difficulty thinking, and memory impairment – were noted.

This last take-away is remarkable, considering the potency of today’s marijuana, compared to the past. This increase in potency is verified by law enforcement officials. Moreover, the increase in usage should logically lead to more reported marijuana-linked disorders.

The authors suggest that unreported disorders may be due to the less frequent use of marijuana by many of the new users within the past year. New users may also have less psychopathology than long-term users.

As only adults, ages 18 or older, were surveyed, adolescents were not included in the study. But, surprisingly, another survey taken by high school students showed that marijuana use among adolescents is decreasing. Two decades ago, usage was at 25 percent, and it’s now dropped to 22 percent. According to the survey, the reason for this drop may be that youths are having a harder time obtaining marijuana than in the past. This may change as more states begin to legalize the drug for recreational use.

The authors of this survey call for better education on the risks of marijuana use, in addition to preventative measures and monitoring of marijuana use and disorders, both at state and national-levels.

As quoted by Science Daily, Compton addressed the importance of monitoring marijuana use and addiction, stating, “Understanding patterns of marijuana use and dependence, and how these have changed over time is essential for policy makers who continue to consider whether and how to modify laws related to marijuana and for health-care practitioners who care for patients using marijuana. Perceived risk of marijuana use is associated with high frequency of use suggesting the potential value for modifying risk perceptions of marijuana use in adults through effective education and prevention messages.”