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Implications of marijuana legalization for adolescent substance use

Christian Hopfer
Substance Abuse 2014, 35 (4): 331-5
25127003
Marijuana that is legally available for adults has multiple implications for adolescent substance use. One potential effect that legalization may have is an increase in adolescent use to due increased availability, greater social acceptance, and possibly lower prices. Legalization may also facilitate the introduction of new formulations of marijuana (edible, vaporized) and with potentially higher potencies. It is unknown what adolescent consumption patterns will be if marijuana is widely available and marketed in different forms, or what effects different patterns of adolescent use will have on cognition, the development of marijuana use disorders, school performance, and the development of psychotic illnesses. Also unclear is whether adolescent users will be experiencing higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) compared with previous generations of users due to higher potencies. Although previous studies of the effects of adolescent marijuana use provide some guidance for current policy and public health recommendations, many new studies will be needed that answer questions in the context of use within a legal adult environment. Claims that marijuana has medicinal benefits create additional challenges for adolescent prevention efforts, as they contrast with messages of its harmfulness. Prevention and treatment approaches will need to address perceptions of the safety of marijuana, claims of its medicinal use, and consider family-wide effects as older siblings and parents may increasingly openly consume and advocate for marijuana use. Guidance for primary care physicians will be needed regarded screening and counseling. Widespread legalization and acceptance of marijuana implies that as law enforcement approaches for marijuana control decline, public health, medical, and scientific efforts to understand and reduce negative consequences of adolescent marijuana use need to be substantially increased to levels commensurate with those efforts for tobacco and alcohol.

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