The Critical Questions - Teen Cannabis Use in US States with Legal Recreational Weed

A Brief History of Recreational Cannabis Use in Teenagers

The human consumption of cannabis, for medicinal and recreational purposes, is far from new. In Asia, it is recorded that water pipes, or “bongs”, were in popular use all the way back to the 16th century. Records show that Empress Dowager Cixi of Qing dynasty China was buried alongside three prized bongs. And in the United States, the widespread consumption of cannabis for recreational purposes in teenagers can be traced to the Beat Movements of the 1950s.

The Beat Movement, also referred to as the Beat Generation, was an American social and literary movement which came to prominence in the 1950s. The movement was centred on the bohemian art communities of three major cities in the U.S namely;

  • Greenwich Village, New York City
  • Venice West, Los Angeles
  • North Beach, San Francisco
The Beat Movement – whose adherents were referred to as ‘Beatniks’ – rejected conventional social ideals and embraced artistic and bohemian ideals. Beatniks advocated personal release and purification which could be induced by jazz music, sex or drugs – particularly marijuana.
Prior to the Beatniks, marijuana gained traction in the U.S in 1910 after Mexican refugees brought the substance with them while fleeing the violence of the Mexican Revolution. In the 1930s, black jazz singer Cab Calloway popularised the substance through his hit single ‘Reefer Man’.



Statistics and Research on Teen Consumption of Marijuana

Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that marijuana is the most commonly used illegal substance in the United States. It is recorded that approximately 22.2 million Americans use marijuana monthly. In 2016, the NDSUH determined that approximately 4 million people aged 12 and older suffered some form of marijuana use disorder including addiction.


Teenagers Smoking Marijuana. Source

38% of high school students admitted that they had tried the psychoactive substance at least once in their lives. Research according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that regular marijuana use in teenagers can affect attention and memory abilities in the long-term – and in some cases, permanently. There are numerous research studies to back up the claims of worried guardians in regards to teen marijuana use. It is no surprise that many of these concerned parties are still fighting against the legalisation of recreational cannabis. However, while there is certainly reason to carefully monitor and control the use of cannabis by teens, a closer look at studies and statistics may change some hard-line, anti-cannabis views.



A fall in Teen Cannabis Use

Marijuana is currently legal for medical and recreational use in U.S states, including in the country’s capital, Washington D.C.

With marijuana readily available to adults in these states, many parents worry that susceptible teenagers will have increased access and therefore a higher potential for drug use. According to Rebekah Levine Coley, a psychology researcher at Boston College, that may not be the case.

In this study, researchers examined data collated on substance use from 861,082 adolescents in 45 states between the years 1999 to 2015. These adolescents were aged 14 to 18 years. By April 2015 when the research was concluded, 11 states had legalised recreational marijuana while 18 had legalised medical marijuana.

According to the research, teen marijuana consumption declined in states where medical marijuana was legalised. With each passing year, it was recorded that teen marijuana use dwindled. In states where recreational marijuana laws were in effect, research recorded no influence on teen users save for a slight reduction in use by 14 year-olds and Hispanic teenagers.

The study shows that neither recreational nor medical marijuana laws affect the outcome of teenagers using marijuana. The study is limited, however, as teenagers surveyed were all in high school. There is no data to establish the effects of these laws on teens who have dropped out of school.



What Could the Future Hold?

Levine comments “It is possible that some teens perceived marijuana as more harmful once states passed medical marijuana laws because they started thinking of it like a prescription medicine with potential side effects”. It can also be assumed that since marijuana is now legal it has lost its ‘rebellious’ appeal – a major reason why many teenagers indulged in cannabis products initially.

Whatever the case may be, research has so far shown that cannabis legalisation laws do not affect teen consumption in any parameter. However, what they do provide is additional safety when marijuana is bought – descriptive labelling, and protective packaging containing a safe, controlled product. If teenagers who are going to access marijuana anyway are able to get a quality controlled product from an improved vendor, it could mean that legalising marijuana keeps teens safer than the current alternative.

Sources