The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have released a new report that provides a comprehensive overview of trends in marijuana use and attitudes from 2002 to 2014. The surveillance summary is the first of its kind to analyze historical trends in data from SAMHSA’s annual survey of drug attitudes and behaviors.
Researchers examined historical patterns over the 12-year period, including trends in marijuana use across different age groups as well as related indicators (perceptions, access, penalties for use, etc.). Among the key findings was that the prevalence of marijuana use during the past month, past year, and daily or almost daily increased over the studied period among persons aged ≥18 years, but not among those aged 12–17 years. Other finding include:
- Among persons aged ≥12 years, the prevalence of perceived great risk from smoking marijuana once or twice a week and once a month decreased and the prevalence of perceived no risk increased.
- The prevalence of past year marijuana dependence and abuse decreased, except among persons aged ≥26 years (who also showed the highest increase in past month use over the period of time explored).
- Among persons aged ≥12 years, the percentage reporting that marijuana was fairly easy or very easy to obtain increased.
- The percentage of persons aged ≥12 reporting the mode of acquisition of marijuana was buying it and growing it increased versus getting it for free and sharing it.
- The percentage of persons aged ≥12 years reporting that the perceived maximum legal penalty for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana in their state is a fine and no penalty increased versus probation, community service, possible prison sentence and mandatory prison sentence.
Overall, the surveillance summary showed a decrease in the perception of great risk from smoking marijuana combined with increases in the perception of availability (i.e., fairly easy or very easy to obtain marijuana) and fewer punitive legal penalties (e.g., no penalty). While the survey data is not conclusive to link causes and effects, it seems likely that the movement towards greater legalization of medical and recreational marijuana use across the country, and the associated rise of legal distribution systems, has contributed to these overall trends.
With more states moving towards relaxing marijuana laws, and a national push for decimalization of marijuana, more research is needed to understand how public policy, criminal law and education impact marijuana behaviors and attitudes. The changing attitudes and beliefs of youth around the risks and availability of marijuana is of particular concern. While this survey did not show an increase in use or initiation behaviors among youth over the studied time period, lower perceptions of risk and higher availability of drugs are generally associated with higher levels of use. More frequent surveys may be needed to monitor marijuana use and initiation among youth ages 12-17 and determine whether changing attitudes will eventually lead to increased use behaviors. Better data will help federal, state and local public health officials develop targeted prevention activities to reduce youth initiation of marijuana use, prevent marijuana dependence and abuse and prevent adverse health effects.
“National Estimates of Marijuana Use and Related Indicators—National Survey on Drug Use and Health, United States, 2002-2014” was published by CDC in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) in September. Battelle’s Gillian Schauer was one of five co-authors on the report and contributed to the historical analysis. The full report can be downloaded from MMWR. State level data can be found at SAMHSA.