Weeding Out the Facts: The Implications of Legalizing Marijuana

In recent years, the legalization of marijuana use has become a high-profile topic of discussion across the United States. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational usage of marijuana for adults 21 and over. In following years, other states have legalized medical or recreational marijuana usage or decriminalized it, changing usage trends across the country. The long-term impacts of these changing laws are yet to be seen, but what can we learn from the few years that have passed?

Researchers have looked at Colorado and noticed some changes in public health trends since 2012. Two highlights:

  • mjA 2016 report compared previous years’ results from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The report showed a large difference in Colorado youth (ages 12 to 17) marijuana usage compared to the national average. From 2013-2014, the percentage of Colorado youth who had used marijuana in the previous month was 74% higher than the national average.
  • A report published in 2017 showed that Colorado hospital records indicate a marked increase in marijuana-related visits. The study found that among 13-21 year olds, the number of marijuana-related visits to the emergency department (ED) and other urgent care centers rose from 146 in 2005 to 639 in 2014.

These numbers suggest that not only are adolescents more at risk because of increased access to marijuana, but also more healthcare resources are needed to respond to these risks. As time passes, it will be interesting to see how Colorado and other states respond to the changing public health needs of their communities. In fact, when discussing the findings about changes in marijuana-related ED visits, the study’s lead researcher George Sam Wang stressed that “targeted marijuana education and prevention strategies are necessary to reduce the significant public health impact” of marijuana usage on adolescent populations.

One company heavily involved in prevention is National Health Promotion Associates (NHPA), whose LifeSkills Training programs target the prevention of substance use, prescription drug abuse, and sexual violence for elementary school, middle school, high school, and college students. NHPA has also introduced an online workshop (check our online calendar for current dates) specific to teaching marijuana prevention. Workshops like these are key elements in addressing changes in adolescent mental health related to marijuana usage.

Writer: Genevieve Martin is a rising senior at Boston College studying Psychology. She also works as a Health Coach in the Office of Health Promotion (OHP) where she teaches and coaches students about stress and time management along with other general health and wellness strategies. 







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