Marijuana Legalization Associated With Decline in Youth Treatment Admissions, Finds Study

According to an interesting and for some eye-opening new study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the enactment of marijuana legalization laws is not associated with an increase in marijuana-related youth drug treatment admissions.

For the study, first reported on by NORML, a pair of researchers from Temple University assessed annual drug treatments admissions among youth for the years 2008 to 2017.

They found that “Over all states in the analysis, the rate of adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana use declined significantly over the study period, with the mean rate falling nearly in half. The decline in admissions rate was greater in Colorado and Washington compared to non-RML (recreational marijuana law) states” following the enactment of adult-use legalization policies. “Authors speculated that a variety of factors may have influenced the decrease in admissions, including potential changes in youth use patterns and/or shifts in cultural attitudes toward marijuana consumption in general.”



The study concludes by stating: “To our knowledge, this is the first study examining the effect of recreational legalization of marijuana in the US on adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana use. Our results indicate that RML in Colorado and Washington was not associated with an increase in treatment admissions. Rather, we observe a substantial decline in admissions rates across US states, with evidence suggesting a greater decline in Colorado/Washington following RML as compared to non-RML states. … While we are encouraged that rates of new treatment admissions for marijuana use among adolescents exhibited a general decline in the states we examined, it is unclear whether this finding reflects trends in the prevalence of CUD (cannabis use disorder) or, rather, changes in treatment seeking behaviors due to changing perceptions of risk and public attitudes towards marijuana use.”

The study is titled Adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana following recreational legalization in Colorado and Washington.

The full abstract can be found below:

Introduction: There is concern that recreational marijuana legalization (RML) may lead to increased cannabis use disorder (CUD) among youth due to increased marijuana use. This study investigates whether adolescent substance use disorder treatment admissions for marijuana use increased in Colorado and Washington following RML.



Methods: Annual data on 2008-2017 treatment admissions for marijuana use from the SAMHSA TEDS-A dataset for adolescents age 12-17 were used to model state treatment admissions trends. Difference-in-differences models were used to investigate whether treatment admissions increased following RML in Colorado/Washington compared to non-RML states, after adjusting for socioeconomic characteristics and treatment availability.

Results: Over all states in the analysis, the rate of adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana use declined significantly over the study period (β=-3.375, 95 % CI=-4.842, -1.907), with the mean rate falling nearly in half. The decline in admissions rate was greater in Colorado and Washington compared to non-RML states following RML, though this difference was not significant (β=-7.671, 95 % CI=-38.798, 23.456).

Conclusion: Adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana use did not increase in Colorado and Washington following RML. This may be because youth marijuana use did not increase, CUD did not increase (even if use did increase), or treatment seeking behaviors changed due to shifts in attitudes and perceptions of risk towards marijuana use.

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