According to a recent study published in the journal Clinical Toxicology, adolescent cannabis abuse has increased by 245 percent since 2000 in the United States, while alcohol abuse has steadily decreased over the same period.
The experts identified over 338,000 instances of intentional abuse or misuse among American children aged 6-18 (the majority – 58.3 percent – occurring in males, and over 80 percent of reported cases occurring in adolescents aged 13-18), suggesting that marijuana consumption is currently on the rise within this demographic.
The findings demonstrate a significant pattern of change in drug consumption over the years. For instance, although dextromethorphan (DXM) – a dissociative substance found in over-the-counter cough medicines – was the most reported substance over the study period. This peaked in 2006 and steadily decreased since then.
Similarly, the largest number of abuse cases in 2000 involved alcoholic beverages. Since then, adolescent abuse of alcohol has declined.
By contrast, marijuana exposure cases remained relatively stable from 2000 to 2009, then steadily increased from 2011, with an even more dramatic rise between 2017 and 2020. According to the scientists, this rise in marijuana consumption among children and teenagers could be attributed to the increased popularity of edible cannabis products, which are now widely available across the United States.
“Ethanol abuse cases exceeded the number of marijuana cases every year from 2000 until 2013,” said study co-author Adrienne Hughes, an assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at the Oregon Health & Science University. “Since 2014, marijuana exposure cases have exceeded ethanol cases every year, and by a greater amount each year than the prior.”
Although rates of all cannabis abuse increased, edible marijuana showed the highest average monthly increase compared to all other forms, suggesting that teenagers have moved away from smoking weed to alternative modes of consumption. Moreover, cannabis extracts such as those used in vaping products have also become increasingly popular.
“These edible and vaping products are often marketed in ways that are attractive to young people, and they are considered more discrete and convenient,” Hughes explained. Yet, although they are often perceived as less harmful, many studies show this is not the case. “Compared to smoking cannabis, which typically results in an immediate high, intoxication from edible forms of marijuana usually takes several hours, which may lead some individuals to consume greater amounts and experience unexpected and unpredictable highs.”
“Our study describes an upward trend in marijuana abuse exposures among youth, especially those involving edible products. These findings highlight an ongoing concern about the impact of rapidly evolving cannabis legalization on this vulnerable population,” she concluded.
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