Cannabis Users Up, Harmful View Down
A new study has found that the number of people in the U.S. who purport to use cannabis at least somewhat regularly has increased by over ten million in the past dozen years. The study published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry found that while there are so many more cannabis users, a lower percentage of people are actually finding marijuana to be harmful to your health.
The study’s authors concluded that the rise in cannabis use, in tandem with a decrease in the belief among users that cannabis use presents harm, is an indication that more should be widely known about cannabis use and its consequences.
“The associations between increases in marijuana use and decreases in perceiving great risk of harm from smoking marijuana suggest the need for education regarding the risk of smoking marijuana and prevention messages,” the authors wrote.
The study relied upon nationally-collected survey data from 565,500 adults over the course of 12 years, from 2002-2014. Over this period, the study’s authors found that the relatively regular use of cannabis (use that takes place roughly once a month) had increased from 10.4% to 13.3%. This number comes out to roughly 10 million more Americans who claimed to have been routine users.
That change was dwarfed by the change in the number of people who consider cannabis use to be a high risk: Just 33.3% of adults now believe marijuana use is risky, down from 50.4% 12 years ago, a sizable 17.1-point swing. No children or teenagers were tested for the study.
The data finds that the perceptions of cannabis users over this period began to change around 2007, in the midst of more and more states looking towards a future without prohibition.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Wilson Compton (with the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health) is ambivalent about whether to attribute the rise in cannabis users and changes in perceptions of its use to pushes for legalization.
“It’s is not such an easy question to answer,” Compton says.
“States that have medical marijuana laws have higher rates of use… but you don’t know what the direction of causation goes.”
While the causal relationship is difficult to pin down, the results nonetheless attracted the attention of decriminalization critics. According to addiction experts Michael Lynskey and Wayne Hall, it may be traced to the liberalization of individual state laws regarding cannabis.
“These changes in the prevalence of cannabis use occurred during a period when many US states legalized cannabis for medical use, but before four states went on to legalize recreational cannabis use,” the two wrote.
“It is probably too soon to draw conclusions about the effects of these legal changes in rates of cannabis use and cannabis-related harms, but it is likely that these policy changes will increase the prevalence and frequency of cannabis use.”
Other countries have not registered similar numbers. The use of cannabis has dropped in the past ten years in Great Britain, as have the numbers of arrests for the substance. Italy, meanwhile, is on the brink of maybe legalizing the use of recreational cannabis, signaling that attitudes in that country may be changing as well.