Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) shows that teen cannabis use in the United States continues to decline, despite the increasing number of states legalizing cannabis. Studies have found no evidence that legalization led to increased cannabis use among young people. The COVID-19 pandemic may have contributed to the decline.
Teen Cannabis Use Declining Since Legalization in the United States
Despite an increasing number of American states legalizing cannabis, rates of current and lifetime teen cannabis use among American high school students continue to decline, as recently published federal data shows.
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CDC Report Shows Decrease in Teen Cannabis Use
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), released last week, reveals that teen consumption of all monitored substances – including cannabis, alcohol, and prescription drugs – has “decreased linearly” over the past decade.
Regarding cannabis, the federal study shows that teen cannabis consumption tended to increase between 2009 and 2013, before legal cannabis dispensaries began to open in the first states that legalized, but has generally been declining since. The first laws legalizing cannabis in the United States were approved by voters in 2012, and regulated retail sales began in 2014.
The latest biennial survey data shows that 15.8% of high school students reported using cannabis at least once in the past 30 days in 2021, down from 21.7% in 2009 and significantly less than the peak of 23.4% reached in 2013.
Health Officials Encouraged By Trend
Health officials have been encouraged by this trend, although they have pointed out that social isolation policies resulting from the coronavirus pandemic have likely played a role in the extent of the decline in teen substance abuse during the most recent two-year period that was measured.
“The use of substances among young people has decreased over the past decade, including during the COVID-19 pandemic,” a complementary CDC report states. “However, substance use remains common among American high school students, and it is important to continue monitoring it in the context of evolving markets for alcoholic beverages and other drugs.”
“Expanding evidence-based policies, programs, and practices that target reducing factors that contribute to the risk of psychoactive substance use among adolescents and promoting factors that protect against the risk could help build on recent declines,” the report states.
Legalization Clearly Doesn’t Increase Teen Cannabis Use
In 2021, a study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that state-level cannabis legalization is not associated with increased teen cannabis use.
The study showed that “youth who spent more of their adolescence under legalization were no more or less likely to have used cannabis at age 15 than adolescents who spent little or no time under legalization.”
Other Teen Cannabis Use Studies
Another federally funded study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University and published last summer in the journal PLOS One found that “retail cannabis sales may be followed by an increase in cannabis use among older adults” in legal states, “but not among teens who cannot purchase cannabis products at a retail outlet.”
Another study published by Colorado authorities in 2020 showed that teen cannabis use in that state “has not changed significantly since legalization” in 2012, although consumption methods are diversifying.
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