Data from surveys will continue to be extremely important for cannabis as states begin to implement and adjust their medical and recreational laws. In our previous article, we discussed a recently published report from the American Journal of Public Health that showed a major decrease in traffic fatalities across states with medical cannabis laws.
Especially important was the finding that the most statistically significant reductions were among age groups 15 to 24, and 25 to 44. These adolescent and young adult populations are historically the most at risk for involvement in a fatal car accident. The general decrease in the traffic death rates takes a lot of wind from the sails of anti-cannabis groups, which often fall back on two arguing points: cannabis laws increase traffic deaths, and cannabis laws increase youth exposure, use, and abuse.
The positive driving data is very encouraging, but the state-level data for Colorado from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health may change the way we debate about cannabis entirely.
Despite the cries from anti-cannabis groups, the first tangible data from a state with recreational laws shows something incredible – people ages 12 to 17 are using cannabis less and less, year after year.
Comparisons of 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 population percentages show cannabis use among adolescents dropped from 20.81 to 18.35 percent.
Washington also experienced a decrease in youth abuse of cannabis, from 17.53 to 15.61 percent, but the reduction was not as statistically significant as the results from Colorado due to population constraints.
Overall, in states that legalization cannabis, as well as the District of Columbia, cannabis use among individuals 12 to 17 has been declining year over year. This is great ammunition for pro-cannabis advocacy groups that have been involved in a social debate for the last few decades.
One of the biggest issues with these state reports on cannabis use among teens is that each state represents its own ecosystem, with local factors that influence the data in unique. Compare the decrease in use among teens in Colorado to a recent Arizona study, and you will see that the arguments around cannabis (and how they are perceived) are greatly dependent on the state itself.
The Arizona Youth Survey reviewed answers from 57,000 students in high school, and concluded that the overall number of teens (8th through 12th grade) who used cannabis in the past 30 days rose only 0.6 percent from the 2014 report. Despite the insignificant increase, anti-cannabis activists began shouting the results from the rooftop.
Comparing Colorado to Arizona is difficult considering they have very different populations with a variety of social and economic issues. But it doesn’t take a data scientist to sense there is something more to the story when one state legalizes adult use of cannabis and youth abuse drops off a cliff, and another state with only medical laws sees a minor increase.
Of course, more research is necessary, but pro-cannabis advocates finally will have data to back up their claims that cannabis can be a safe medicine and a responsible recreational substance.
And maybe declines in cannabis use among adolescents are simply the result of another social phenomenon: drugs aren’t so cool when your mom and dad have fun with them.