Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Youth marijuana use rose 245% in last two decades: study

Findings are based on reports of substance abuse and misuse called into poison control centers.
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Story at a glance

  • The rise in marijuana use among U.S. youths coincides with a decline in alcohol use.

  • Edible cannabis products and extracts used in vaping products accounted for a large portion of reports to U.S. poison control centers.

  • Experts expressed concern about the effect of legalized marijuana on these vulnerable populations. 

Figures from the National Poison Data System (NPDS) show adolescent cannabis use spiked by 245 percent between 2000 and 2020. 

Research findings were published on Monday in the journal Clinical Toxicology and detail a decline in the rate of alcohol abuse over the same period. 

“Ethanol abuse cases exceeded the number of marijuana cases every year from 2000 until 2013,” explained study author Adrienne Hughes, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, in a release

However, “since 2014, marijuana exposure cases have exceeded ethanol cases every year, and by a greater amount each year than the prior,” Hughes added. 

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Data showed cases of marijuana exposure were relatively stable from 2000 to 2009 but began increasing in 2011 and saw a big uptick between 2017 and 2020.

In addition to marijuana and alcohol, dextromethorphan had the highest total number of exposure cases over the study period, although use peaked in 2006 and has since decreased.

Compared with all other forms, edible marijuana had the highest average monthly increase in call rates to poison control centers. Cannabis extracts, like those used in vaping products, also grew in popularity, data showed. 

Experts hypothesize the rise in marijuana exposure rates is due to the increased popularity of edible cannabis products that are now widely available across the country thanks to states’ legalization of recreational marijuana. 

“These edible and vaping products are often marketed in ways that are attractive to young people, and they are considered more discrete and convenient,” said Hughes.

Previous research has also indicated edible cannabis products are increasingly perceived as less harmful among adolescents, researchers wrote. 

However, the products’ potency and delayed effects pose concerns for the adolescent population. 

“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,” Hughes added.

One study published in 2019 found emergency department visits attributable to edible cannabis were linked with more acute psychiatric symptoms and cardiovascular events compared with inhaled cannabis.

The NPDS findings “highlight an ongoing concern about the impact of rapidly evolving cannabis legalization on this vulnerable population,” researchers concluded.