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Teen Marijuana Use Remains Lower Than Pre-Legalization Levels, Federally Funded Survey Finds

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Fewer young people are using marijuana now as compared to 2012, when the first states moved to legalize cannabis, according to a federally funded study that was released on Monday.

The 2018 Monitoring the Future survey found that annual, monthly and daily marijuana use remained lower among the nation’s 8th, 10th and 12th grade students compared to pre-legalization levels. Teens’ perceived availability of cannabis continued to decline in 2018 as well.

“Once again, federal survey data has debunked the myth that rolling back marijuana prohibition will result in increased rates of use among teens,” Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “It’s quite clear that our country does not need to arrest hundreds of thousands of adult marijuana consumers in order to prevent teens from using marijuana.”

At the same time, fewer adolescents are saying they perceive occasional or frequent cannabis use as harmful. Experts have long believed that lower perceptions of risk are correlated with more frequent use—but for marijuana at least, the data doesn’t seem to bear out those concerns.

“Rates of marijuana use by teens have been of great interest to researchers over the past decade, given major social and legislative shifts around the drug; it is now legal for adult recreational use in 10 states plus the District of Columbia, and it is available medicinally in many more,” reads a press release from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Fortunately, even as teens’ attitudes toward marijuana’s harms continue to relax, they are not showing corresponding increases in marijuana use.”

There was a slight uptick in self-reported marijuana consumption for 8th and 10th graders compared to last year, while rates of cannabis use among 12th grade students dipped since 2017.

While opponents of legalization have raised concerns that loosening cannabis laws will inevitably lead more young people to seek out marijuana, the survey data seems to reinforce the idea that regulated legal access for adults is more effective than blanket prohibition.

“The most significant public policy approach to reduce teen use of cannabis is to take it out of the hands of the illicit market and put it behind a counter where employees check IDs,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “This new report and public acknowledgment by NIDA only further solidifies our demand for an expeditious legalization in the remaining stubborn states with prohibition.”

The new study, commissioned by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, was conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan.

Generally speaking, rates of cannabis use among high school students have remained relatively steady in recent years, but there was a significant increase in vaping nicotine and also a bump in vaping marijuana compared to 2017. Last year, the first time researchers asked specifically about cannabis vaping, roughly 5 percent of 12th grade students reported vaping marijuana in the past 30 days; in 2018, 7.5 percent said the same.

That seems to reflect a broader trend of young people choosing to vape instead of smoke. Another finding from the survey is that adolescent cigarette smoking rates have continued to decline—a trend that’s been ongoing for the past two decades.

“Vaping is making substantial inroads among adolescents, no matter the substance vaped,” Richard Miech, lead author of the study, said in a press release. “If we want to prevent youth from using drugs, including nicotine, vaping will warrant special attention in terms of policy, education campaigns, and prevention programs in the coming years.”

Here’s the raw data on adolescent marijuana use trends:

8th 2012 8th 2017 8th 2018 10th 2012 10th 2017 10th 2018 12th 2012 12th 2017 12th 2018
Lifetime Use 15.2 13.5 13.9 33.8 30.7 32.6 45.2 45 43.6
Annual Use 11.4 10.1 10.5 28 25.5 27.5 36.4 37.1 35.9
30-day Use 6.5 5.5 5.6 17 15.7 16.7 22.9 22.9 22.2
Daily Use 1.1 0.8 0.7 3.5 2.9 3.4 6.5 5.9 5.8
Perceived Availability 36.9 35.2 35 68.8 64.6 64.5 81.6 79.8 79.7

Numbers reported in percentages. Availability figures include those saying marijuana is fairly easy or very easy to get.

Multiple studies have come out in the past year that have indicated that legalization doesn’t drive young people to consume cannabis. That includes a meta-analysis of 55 studies that found the “passage of [medical marijuana laws] has not increased cannabis use among teenagers during the periods after their passage that has been studied to date.”

This story has been updated to include comment from the Marijuana Policy Project and NORML.

Youth Marijuana Use Isn’t Increasing After States Legalize, Meta-Analysis Of 55 Studies Concludes

Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Culture

Marijuana Tourism From China To Amsterdam: Study Sheds Light On Motivations

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Marijuana use in China is strictly forbidden. In fact, when Canada legalized cannabis last year, the Chinese government sternly reminded its citizens living in or visiting the country to “please avoid contact or using marijuana.”

Yet, despite their nation’s strict views on marijuana, research shows that significant numbers of Chinese tourists are heading to Amsterdam to take part in its prolific cannabis culture. A new study published in the journal Current Issues in Tourism sheds light on some of the motivations for the cross-continental cannatourism.

The punishment for drug use of any kind in China, including marijuana, is up to 15 days in detention and mandatory rehabilitation, the study’s authors write. But the Chinese government has been known to enforce harsher sentences for other cannabis-related charges. For example, Jaycee Chan, the son of actor Jackie Chan, spent six months in a Beijing jail after police discovered more than 100 grams in his apartment.

Because Chinese citizens are “widely educated to stay away from any kind of drugs,” the study states, researchers were curious to know more about who these tourists heading to the Netherlands for cannabis really were. Between February 2014 and October 2016, they randomly approached Chinese tourists in or exiting Amsterdam coffee shops where marijuana is sold over the counter and invited them to complete a confidential questionnaire. A total of 654 surveys were collected and analyzed.

About 80 percent of respondents said they’d never tried marijuana prior to their trip to Amsterdam.

Participants were divided into three segments based on their responses: cannabis enthusiasts, diversionists/recreationists (people who were seeking pleasure or a diversion from their daily lives) and people who were simply curious about cannabis culture.

Survey responses from the first and third groups “demonstrate that Chinese drug tourists desire to ‘experience all’ and seek authenticity out of their normal daily life and society during the overseas travel,” the study authors wrote.

The largest number of tourists surveyed (almost 44 percent) fell into the category of diversionist/recreationist. In other words, they used cannabis as a way to enjoy their vacation—not unlike tourists from other countries.

“They travelled and consumed cannabis mostly for the sake of experiencing/experimenting with the local cannabis culture in Amsterdam as well as relaxation, pleasure, and to escape from stressful social environments,” the authors write.

Cannabis enthusiasts were the smallest segment of the sample. In terms of demographics, almost half of the survey respondents were women. Overall, a majority of participants reported being college-educated, under 35 years old and not married.

In a recent interview, lead study author Jun Wen discussed why Chinese tourists are especially attracted to the Netherlands.

“You can do a lot of things there that are illegal in China – gambling, paying for sexual services, and buying cannabis for recreational use,” he said. “So Chinese tourists want to go there to find a different way to relax that’s not traditional.”

World Health Organization Recommends Reclassifying Marijuana Under International Treaties

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This Is The Best Way To Store Marijuana For The Apocalypse, According To Science

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You may want to rethink how you’re storing your marijuana stash long-term.

Many enthusiasts will tell you the best place to keep cannabis is in an air-tight container stowed somewhere cool and dark. But according to the results of a new four-year study, the freezer may actually be a better place—especially if you’re concerned about maintaining that all-important THC content.

Researchers in Italy were interested in understanding how time and various storage conditions (involving light, oxygen and temperature) affected the chemical composition of high-potency cannabis products. Past studies have also investigated this topic, but the authors of new research published in Forensic Science International last week noted that the potency of cannabis in today’s market is “extremely different” from years past.

Using six cannabis products of herbal and resin materials (which were seized by law enforcement and given to researchers to analyze), the study’s authors created 24 primary samples.

After collecting information about how much THC, CBD and CBN (that is, cannabinol, another non-intoxicating component in cannabis that occurs when THC degrades over time) each sample contained, the researchers stored the samples in four controlled conditions for a period of four years.

The testing conditions differed by light exposure (whether it was light or dark 24 hours) and storage temperature (including at room temperature, refrigerated at 4 degrees Celsius or frozen at -20 degrees Celsius). Over the span of the study period, the samples were tested 14 times.

In a finding that will likely be unsurprising to anyone who has stumbled upon an old stash of cannabis stored in a sock drawer, the study determined that the amount of THC decreased—thus increasing the amount of CBN—in the samples stored at room temperature. In the first 100 days of data gathering, the THC in the marijuana stored in both light and dark spaces at room temperature had degraded by 13 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, the refrigerated cannabis did show some decline in THC and increase in CBN over time, though not nearly as pronounced as the samples kept at room temperature.

The THC content in the samples stored in below-freezing conditions, however, did not significantly change.

This finding indicates, as the authors write, “that freezing is the best storage condition to avoid the reduction of the cannabinoids content over time.”

As for CBD, the study found that the compound remained “relatively constant over time in all the considered samples.”

The authors point out that their findings could be important for forensic purposes. With their methods, they write, law enforcement may be able to figure out what the THC concentration might initially have been in degraded marijuana.

On a more basic level, the research could also help consumers better plan how to store their cannabis.

That said, with marijuana not exactly that hard to find—it’s not as if prohibition is very effective, and more states are legalizing cannabis stores in any case—most people probably won’t be seeking to intentionally store their supply for multi-year periods.

Unless, that is, you’re a prepper planning for hard times. In that case, just know that, according to this research, stuffing your stash in the freezer is best.

Study Reveals How Marijuana Components THC And CBD Affect Chronic Pain

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Science & Health

Legal Marijuana Sales Don’t Increase Use, But Allowing Possession Does, Study Finds

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When penalties for marijuana possession are lifted, usage rates seem to increase—but that’s not the case when retail sales of cannabis are permitted. Those are the findings of a new study that seems to run contrary to a key talking point of groups that oppose legalization.

To learn how different reform policies impact consumption trends, researchers at Colorado Mesa University analyzed survey data from more than 1,400 people over the course of 17 months in Colorado, Washington and Australia. Their findings were recently published in the journal Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment.

While some prohibitionist groups have proposed simply removing penalties for possession as a preferred alternative to full commercial marijuana legalization—which they believe will create an industry incentivized to increase heavy cannabis consumption—the new study appears to undermine that position.

After Washington State instituted voter-approved legalization of cannabis consumption and possession, but before retail sales were allowed, there was a 12-22 percent spike in use among college undergraduates in the state.

However, the researchers “found no evidence” that the subsequent implementation of legal sales of recreational cannabis “influenced the number of marijuana users in Washington.”

A similar trend was observed when they looked at data from Australia. The country doesn’t allow legal cannabis sales, but after decriminalizing the plant, there was a 16 percent increase in consumption.

Because the researchers started collecting data from Colorado just three months before retail cannabis sales started, they didn’t reach a conclusion about how removing penalties for possession alone influenced consumption patterns. But the data did show that, in the year after retail sales launched, “rates of marijuana use did not significantly increase.”

The researchers said that the seemingly counterintuitive finding could interpreted a couple ways.

First, it’s possible that “the social and legal implications of legalizing recreational marijuana are stronger than accessibility and price,” they wrote. In other words, ending criminal penalties for cannabis and normalizing its consumption in a social context might lead to an increase in usage “even before it is sold to the public through legal means.”

“It is important to note, however, that it is reasonable to assume that people would be more truthful and more likely to report marijuana use after its legalization,” they wrote, referring to common study methodology that relies on consumers’ own self reports to track usage levels. “Thus, some of the increase in rates of marijuana use may be an artifact of a greater willingness to report such use, since social and legal barriers were removed by legalization.”

The other inference that can be drawn from the study is that “marijuana is easily accessed even when it is not sold in stores recreationally.” It may be easy to access prior to removal of penalties for possession, too, but legal and social barriers associated with prohibition could suppress its use—or at least lead people not to report about their consumption truthfully when asked in a survey.

All that said, the study authors emphasized that “the conclusions drawn in this commentary are based on observable patterns from correlational research, limiting conclusions of cause and effect.”

States With Legal Medical Marijuana Have Lower Teen Use Rates, Large-Scale Study Finds

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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