Legalized medical marijuana doesn’t cause more teens to smoke weed, study finds

NEW YORK — Fears of kids getting exposed too early to cannabis products because of medical marijuana legalization appear to be overblown, according to a study out of Columbia University.

Researchers say teen usage of cannabis neither increased nor decreased after states legalized pot use for medical problems. The study was an analytical examination of four separate national surveys with data from eleven separate studies dating back to 1991.

Cannabis / marijuana
A new study debunks the belief that teens are more likely to use marijuana recreationally after the drug has been legalized in their state.

“For now, there appears to be no basis for the argument that legalizing medical marijuana has increased teens’ use of the drug,” says Dr. Deborah Hasin, professor of epidemiology at Columbia and senior author of the study, in a release. “However, we may find that the situation changes as commercialized markets for medical marijuana develop and expand, and as states legalize recreational marijuana use.”

Twenty-nine states have legalized medical marijuana since California became the first state to do so 1996. Opponents have long claimed, however, that these laws make it easier for adolescents to acquire and use cannabis recreationally.

Studies have shown that cannabis affects teenage brains differently than adults’ brains, with the potential to cause developmental issues. Other studies have shown the drug can cause mental health problems and even more long-term conditions.

Still, the researchers want to study adult cannabis use next, pointing to the possibility that while connections to teen abuse appear unlikely, there may be a link to people becoming more dependent on the drug in adulthood.

“Although we found no significant effect on adolescent marijuana use, existing evidence suggests that adult recreational use may increase after medical marijuana laws are passed,” says Dr. Hasin. “The $8 billion cannabis industry anticipates tripling by 2025. Obtaining a solid evidence base about harmful as well as beneficial effects of medical and recreational marijuana laws on adults is crucial given the intense economic pressures to expand cannabis markets.”

The full study was published in the journal Addiction.