A new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health says teens with jobs are more likely to try marijuana than their non-employed peers. And according to researchers, the more “formal” the job is and the more hours a teen works, the more likely they are to consume cannabis. Overall, however, even teens with “informal” jobs like babysitting had a higher prevalence of recent marijuana use than nonworking teens. Beyond identifying trends in adolescent marijuana use and its connection to employment, the study also compared marijuana use by age group before and after legalization in Washington.
Teens Working Long Hours Are More Likely to Consume Marijuana
In a study titled “Employment and Marijuana Use Among Washington State Adolescents Before and After Legalization of Retail Marijuana,” researchers analyzed survey data to find out how employment is affecting teen marijuana use. Researchers used data from Washington’s statewide school-based Healthy Youth Survey, which about 76,000 public school students in 8th, 10th and 12th grade complete every year. The study looks at survey data from 2010 and 2016, two years prior to Washington’s vote to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2012 and two years after the state implemented legal retail sales in 2014.
The study aims to estimate the odds of current and past (within 30 days) marijuana consumption by working status and hours worked per week. And it compares that data to nonworking youth. And what researchers found was that associations between teen marijuana use and employment were stronger for teens in more formal jobs and for teens who worked more hours per week.
“Youth working in formal settings, such as retail and service sectors, were more likely to use marijuana than nonworking and youth working in informal settings, such as babysitting,” the study concludes.
But researchers also found some interesting trends related to age level and marijuana use among teens. According to the study, marijuana use decreased significantly among both working and nonworking 8th and 10th graders between 2010 and 2016. For 12th graders, however, it’s a different story. The data shows that working high school seniors’ marijuana use increased significantly over the same period. And the more hours a high school senior worked, the more likely there were to consume marijuana.
Researchers Aren’t Surprised Working Teens are More Prone to Cannabis Use
Janessa Graves, Ph.D. is an assistant professor whose research focuses on adolescents and work with an emphasis on injury behaviors. She’s also the lead author of the study on teen marijuana use and employment status. And she says it’s no surprise teens with jobs are more likely to spark up. “I wasn’t shocked that working teens have a higher prevalence of marijuana use,” Graves said.
But Dr. Graves was surprised at the stark differences between the 12th graders and the 8th and 10th graders. “I am a bit surprised how the 12th graders’ patterns differed,” Graves said. “The 12th graders are acting more like adults.”
Indeed, Graves believes one explanation for working high school seniors’ increased cannabis consumption is their exposure to it at work. 12th graders could be getting cannabis from their adult coworkers, or simply following their adult coworkers’ cannabis habits.
For Graves, it comes down to the quality of the workplace. She says there are some places that are great for adolescents to work, and some that are less so. Ultimately, the study’s findings do raise some public health concerns. Medical experts are fairly strongly in agreement that cannabis consumption by developing humans isn’t ideal. Consuming cannabis before one’s body and brain mature can harm cognitive performance, mental health and create other problems for young people, many health officials argue.
Weed-legal states are working to create drug awareness programs to deter underage cannabis use. And Graves thinks this study’s findings can help. “Consideration of work status and work settings in prevention campaigns and intervention designs may be critical,” the study concludes.