One of the most inflammatory arguments against adult-use cannabis legalization has always been: “Think of the children!” But as it turns out, legalization doesn’t seem to be encouraging teens to consume cannabis in new and horrifying ways — despite media concern-trolling that would lead readers to think otherwise.
Of course, nobody — not legislators, not legalization advocates, businesspeople and certainly not Cannabis Now! — in the legal cannabis sphere is encouraging recreational cannabis use in teenagers. And per the available data, teenagers don’t seem to be skirting the rule of law in order to get high: surveys have indicated that teen cannabis use actually drops in states with medical marijuana programs.
And on top of that, a recent study indicates that teens who do use cannabis tend to smoke, which means that fears of the sugary content of edibles or the trendiness of vaping appealing to America’s youth are factually inaccurate.
Prohibitionists can (and often do!) list myriad reasons they oppose legalization, but one of the most universally compelling is the idea that legalizing weed would encourage teen substance use.
But it’s not as if such concerns are entirely unwarranted. There is evidence linking cannabis use in adolescence with likelihood of depression later in life, as well as changes in grey matter content — though more research is necessary to draw definitive conclusions about causation on either front.
“I worry that legalizing the drug for adults sends a clear message to children that they can get high on pot with no negative impact on their health,” wrote one woman in a Fox News op-ed titled “Pot and teens – I’m a mom and a doctor, here’s what I tell my own teenagers.” In this article, the writer lists a series of worries, including health issues linked to marijuana — depression, substance use disorders and puzzlingly “man boobs” — as causes for alarm. But she cites another big concern about legalization and teens: “It doesn’t help that marijuana can be consumed in different ways. It can be smoked, mixed into foods and even brewed as tea. This may be enticing to the younger population.”
Another article from the Chicago Sun-Times warns readers against the latest teen trend: vaping THC-rich concentrates. The opener is cleverly worded to send shockwaves across every Midwestern mom’s newsfeed: “For today’s youth, ‘dabbing’ has two common meanings: one being a popular dance move and another being a term for vaping marijuana.”
Per a survey of actual teenagers, however, vaping is not the looming menace it’s cracked up to be. From a sample of 2,630 lifetime cannabis users aged 14 to 18, 99 percent of them reported consuming cannabis the old-fashioned way: smoking it. By contrast, only 44 percent of the respondent pool reported having vaped. And 61 percent of the lifetime consumers (read: teens who’d tried it at least once) reported eating an edible — more than half, sure, but nowhere near pandemic levels.
The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same
The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, recruited its teen subjects via Facebook and Instagram ads, and surveyed them about their “use history, current use patterns, and reasons and preferences for each administration method with a particular focus on the route of vaping,” which makes their conclusion all the more surprising.
Additionally, only 22 percent of the teen respondents reported using cannabis in the past 30 days, with the largest portion, 41 percent, having last consumed more than 365 days prior to taking the survey. And though 62 percent teenagers who smoke marijuana reported that they’d done so on more than 100 days in their lifetime, 63 percent of teen vapers said they’d done so on 10 or fewer occasions, and 80 percent of teens who’d eaten edibles had the same 10-day metric.
“Despite the growing availability of new cannabis administration methods, the majority of adolescents in this social media-recruited sample with a lifetime history of vaporization/edible use still preferred to smoke cannabis,” researchers said in the study’s conclusion, noting how this result contrasted with their expectations.
“Such findings were somewhat surprising as we expected that more youth might initiate cannabis use via vaping or edibles because of the increased availability of these methods,” the conclusion continues. “Moreover, we anticipated that once youth tried vaping or edibles, they would be more likely to choose to use these routes… yet to date such preferences for vaping have not yet resulted in major shifts away from smoking.”
At the end of the day, adolescents should probably stay away from cannabis until we know exactly what it does to their seething, developing brains — but since we all know that’s never going to happen, at least we can draw comfort from the fact that the data says legalization isn’t actively encouraging their teenage rebellion.
TELL US, did you consume cannabis as a teen?