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Does cannabis use increase after medical marijuana is legalized? For some cohorts, yes, according to a new study published in Prevention Science

From a public health standpoint, the question of how medical marijuana laws affect marijuana use in the general population is central to the policy debate on this matter.

It is estimated that 16.2 per cent and 57.2 per cent of daily users meet the DSM-IV [the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] criteria for abuse and dependence, respectively. In addition, regular marijuana use is associated to respiratory issues, increased risk of psychosis and psychiatric disorders (particularly among those who are already susceptible), and increased risk of unintentional injury.prevent

Thus, understanding the relationship between medical marijuana laws and overall cannabis use is important in helping to prevent or address any negative public health effects resulting from legalization.

To address this question, a study published in the Prevention Science journal analyzed the 2004-2013 data from the United States’ National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) to see whether enacting medical marijuana laws had an effect on several measures of marijuana use.

States which had implemented medical marijuana laws as of 2014 were divided into three groups depending on whether they enacted those laws prior to or during 2004, between 2004-2013, or in 2014.

To assess marijuana use, they considered the past-month prevalence of marijuana use, the prevalence of daily marijuana use among those who had used it in the past year, and the prevalence of those who fit the criteria for marijuana use disorder (DSM-IV abuse or dependence). They examined three age groups: 12-17, 18-25, and 26+.

Among men and women aged 12-17, the enactment of medical marijuana laws had no effect on any of the measures, which is consistent with existing research in this area. Medical marijuana laws are designed to restrict access to youth, and this finding suggests that those measures are being implemented successfully.

In the 18-25 age group, there was an increase in daily marijuana use prevalence among males from 21 per cent to 23.5 per cent. Aside from this, there were no other effects on this group.

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