Number of Marijuana Users Grows in the United States
As of June, 2016, some 25 states and Washington D.C. have officially legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, with a further three states awaiting the results of ballot measures or pending law changes. Although medical marijuana laws are now the norm, their nature varies greatly from state to state, which has important implications as far as the health and welfare of citizens are concerned – especially those battling illnesses whose symptoms are eased by marijuana, including epilepsy and illness producing chronic pain. In some states, people are allowed to cultivate marijuana for medical use (limits on the number of permitted plants vary from state to state); among these states, some only permit people to grow marijuana if they do not have a state dispensary or for financial reasons. In other states, the term ‘medical marijuana’ simply refers to marijuana extract (not the plant or leaves).
Amidst these subtle differences with big implications, meanwhile, the use of marijuana for recreational in the United States has steadily increased over the past few years, owing in no small part to the decreased perception of the drug being harmful. A large-scale survey of over half a million adults, undertaken between 2002 and 2014 and published last month in The Lancet, has found that marijuana use continues to increase and that the drug has become increasingly more potent in the last decade. The authors of the study note that these new developments mean that improved education and prevention messages regarding the nature of and risk factors involved in using marijuana, must be aimed for.
The authors also noted that increased use of marijuana did not lead to greater abuse or dependence among adults in America. Thus far, the impact of state law changes need to be assessed, and continued monitoring of use and possible disorders, would be required.
The study showed that from 2002 to 2014, marijuana use increased from 10.4 per cent to 13.3 per cent; so, too, did the percentage of adults who first began using marijuana in the previous year, rise significantly (from 0.7 per cent to 1.1 per cent within the same time frame). More people are also using the drug on a daily basis – the percentage of those who take marijuana five days a week on average has risen from 1.9 per cent to 3.5 per cent. People also do not perceive that smoking marijuana is risky (33.3 per cent deemed the practice potentially harmful in 2014, compared to 50.4 per cent in 2002). The authors claim that changes in the perception of marijuana’s safety, began to change in 2007. The paradigm shift can partly be attributed to the legalization of medical marijuana in many states, and to its legalization for non-medical purposes, in several jurisdictions.
The fact that increased use has not led to greater abuse/addiction, reflects that possibility that those who have started using marijuana, or doing so less frequently. Those who have been found to be at a greater risk for addiction include males, the youth, those with lower levels of education, those who do not work full-time, persons with depression and those who consume tobacco or other substances. Among adolescents, risk factors for the consumption of drugs include having a low grade point average, early alcohol used, low self-confidence, psychopathology, and having a poor relationship with their parents. Those whose personality tended to be sensation seeking, also had a higher likelihood of dabbling in marijuana and other drugs.
The authors stated, however, that the full effects of legalization needed to be studied over time, via large-scale surveys such as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and Monitoring the Future (which focuses on drug use among the youth). Comparisons should be made between sample populations in states that have legalized marijuana for both recreation and medical use, and those which have not.
The authors also noted that their survey, although large and extended in time, did not take into account specific members of the population (including the homeless, those who had been imprisoned, and those living in shelters). Therefore, the actual rate of those who use and abuse the drug, could actually be much higher. The study also failed to look into the link between serious psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, and the likelihood of marijuana use.