Does Age at First Marijuana Use Affect Risks for Substance-Related Problems?

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Does Age at First Marijuana Use Affect Risks for Substance-Related Problems?

January 13, 2015 Drug Addiction

People who use marijuana/cannabis as teenagers expose themselves to a number of significant harms, including increased chances of developing an addiction to cannabis. In a study published in October 2014 in the Journal of Substance Use, a multinational research team explored the impact that a person’s age at first marijuana use has on the chances that he or she will go on to develop diagnosable problems with other forms of substance use. These researchers also explored the impact that age at first marijuana use has on the development of depression and other mental health issues in early adulthood.

Teens and Substance Use

The federal government uses several annual projects to track substance use/abuse in American teenagers and adults. One of the most comprehensive of these projects is the National Institute on Drug Abuse-sponsored Monitoring the Future, which collects substance-related survey data from a nationally representative group of thousands of teenagers enrolled in the 12th, 10th and eighth grades. The latest results from Monitoring the Future (covering the year 2013) indicate that roughly 39 percent of all U.S. 12th graders use alcohol in the average month; in addition, approximately 26 percent of all 12th graders use an illicit or illegal drug. Among 10th graders, the monthly rate of alcohol use is almost 26 percent; roughly 19 percent of 10th graders use an illicit/illegal drug. Approximately 10 percent of eighth graders use alcohol in the typical month; about 9 percent of eighth graders use an illicit/illegal drug. Marijuana far outstrips all other illicit/illegal drugs in popularity among teens in all three of the grades tracked through Monitoring the Future.

Age at First Marijuana Use

Another federal project known as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, tracks the age at which the average person gets involved in illicit/illegal substance use, as well as the types of substances most commonly initially consumed. Figures from the version of this survey covering the year 2013 indicate that roughly 54 percent of all first-time users of illicit/illegal substances were below the age of 18. A total of approximately 1.5 million first-time users fell into this 17-and-under category. Far and away, the most common initially used drug is marijuana. In 2013, over 70 percent of all first-time drug users started out with the consumption of this potentially seriously damaging substance, which unfortunately is increasingly seen as harmless or near-harmless by teenagers and the larger general public.

Impact on Substance-Related Problems

In the study published in the Journal of Substance Use, researchers from institutions located in Switzerland, Canada and the United Kingdom used data from an active, long-term project to gauge the impact that age at first marijuana use has on a person’s subsequent chances of developing diagnosable problems with other types of substances. The researchers used data from the same project to assess the connection between age at first marijuana use and mental health problems in early adulthood. A total of 5,521 men submitted information for the current study. The researchers specifically looked at the link between age at initial marijuana consumption and the odds of later developing a nicotine addiction or alcoholism (i.e., alcohol dependence), as well as the odds of using any other illicit/illegal substance at all. In addition, the researchers specifically probed the link between age, marijuana use and the later onset of depression.

The researchers preliminarily concluded that age at first marijuana use has a detectable impact on any given person’s chances of becoming a habitual marijuana consumer: young men who end up using the drug every day typically initiate marijuana intake roughly two years earlier than young men who only end up using the drug 12 times per year or less. The researchers also concluded that young men who started using marijuana at a relatively early age have heightened risks for alcoholism and nicotine addiction, as well as heightened chances of consuming any amount of an illicit/illegal drug other than marijuana. Finally, the researchers concluded that, while age at first marijuana use has some impact on the odds of developing depression or other serious mental health issues in early adulthood, marijuana/cannabis abuse and other forms of excessive substance intake play a much greater role in decreasing a sense of mental well-being. In line with their overall findings, the study’s authors emphasize the importance of delaying the age at which the average person first uses marijuana.

 

By: Gideon Hoyle

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