By, Valli Herman
That distinctive scent around college campuses and places where young adults gather was only the first giveaway. Now Los Angeles County health researchers have determined that the biggest single group of marijuana users within county borders is between 18 and 20 years old, under the legal age for recreational use, but not medical.
Nearly half of all users are between 18 and 29, according to “Recent Trends in Adult Use of Marijuana,” a report from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
The July 2018 analysis may offer researchers the most important barometer of the impact of legal cannabis on public health in the world’s largest marijuana market. The findings also show a recent increase among adults, which tracks with state and national trends, the report said.
As important, the county report gives stakeholders on both sides of the legalization divide statistics to support their positions.
By analyzing data from the Los Angeles County Health survey from 2005, 2011 and 2015, the researchers could begin monitoring the public health impact of marijuana legalization and prepare for the coming years.
The questions posed to the survey respondents varied from 2005, when they were asked whether they had smoked marijuana in the past year, even just once. In the 2011 and 2015 surveys, the question was reworded to ask whether respondents had used any form of marijuana, even just one time, and if so, whether they had a medical marijuana card or a doctor’s recommendation.
Using their research and others’ the report found substantial evidence that:
- Marijuana use increases the risk of motor vehicle crashes.
- Marijuana use during pregnancy is associated with lower birth weights.
- Marijuana use during adolescence is a risk factor for the development of cannabis use disorder.
- Marijuana use is associated with the use of other substances, including alcohol, tobacco, and prescription and illicit narcotics.
In addition, citing the 2014-15 California Healthy Kids Survey data from public schools across Los Angeles County, the researchers noted that 4.5 percent of seventh-graders, 12.1 percent of ninth-graders, and 18.3 percent of 11th-graders had used cannabis in the past month.
Further, about 30 percent of current marijuana users have symptoms of cannabis use disorder, which is characterized by “cravings for and tolerance to cannabis use; experiencing withdrawal symptoms within days of discontinuing use, and problems at work, school or home due to cannabis use,” the county analysis said.
The report also noted the evidence of marijuana’s medicinal benefits, which include:
- Treating chronic pain in adults
- Limiting chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in cancer patients
- Reducing spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis
- Reducing seizures in patients with two rare forms of epilepsy
The 2015 statistics illustrate the gradual growth and acceptance of marijuana across various demographics. The researchers also found:
- 11.6 percent of 890,000 adults 18 years old and older reported using any form of marijuana in the past year, a jump from about 8 percent in prior surveys.
- Males’ marijuana use in the past year was more than double that of females — 15.8 percent male to 7.6 percent female
- Those born outside the United States reported much lower marijuana use across all education levels.
- The percentage of past-year users with a medical marijuana card increased with age, from nearly 24 percent among 18- to 20-year-olds, to 45.2 percent among those 65 and older.
Though it appears that more people are availing themselves of marijuana’s medicinal benefits, others appear to be less concerned with good health practices. The statistics also showed that marijuana use was associated with “higher rates of binge drinking, cigarette smoking, and prescription drug misuse.”
Specifically, the report found:
- In 2015, adults who reported using marijuana in the past year were more likely to currently smoke cigarettes (25.1 percent) and to have used an e-cigarette in the past month (10.1 percent) compared to those who did not use marijuana in the past year (11.7 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively).
- Past-year marijuana users were more likely to have reported binge drinking in the past month (38.7 percent) compared to non-users (12.9 percent) and to have reported misusing prescription drugs in the past year (14.8 percent vs. 4.3 percent).
“An important unanswered question is whether marijuana legalization will increase or decrease the misuse of alcohol and other substances,” the researchers concluded. As research and legalization expand, public health officials and others will continue to investigate trends in the misuse of alcohol and other substances.