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Who’s Smoking Weed These Days? You Asked, the CDC Answered

Close your eyes. Picture someone smoking pot. What do they look like? Most importantly, how old are they? Did you drum up an image of a teen experimenting with drugs? A college student? If so, your image needs some updating.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released an extensive report analyzing the nation’s use and abuse of marijuana. One of the most intriguing findings of their analysis is that teens are no longer the leading age group when it comes to marijuana use.

And the Winner Is…

As of 2014 (the most recent year included in the study), 7.4 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds reported using cannabis in the past month. (Past month usage is interpreted as regular/monthly use.) Beating out this group, at 8 percent, are 35-44-year-olds. In the 26-34-year category, 12.7 percent reported past month usage.

What’s even more surprising? From 2002 to 2014, the 12-17-year-old group had a 10 percent decrease in monthly usage. During that same time period:

  • Adults aged 35 to 44 showed a 43 percent increase in usage
  • Adults ages 45 to 54 had a 48 percent increase
  • Seniors 55-64 had a whopping 455 percent increase

What does this tell us? Middle aged and older adults are more likely to smoke marijuana than teens. The stats also indicate that seniors may soon take the lead in marijuana use – if their trend continues. This increase is most likely due to more prevalent use of marijuana for medical reasons. As more and more states legalize usage, the elderly seem to be turning to this method of treatment more and more. (Use among adults over 65 has increased an astounding 333 percent.)

The numbers also indicate that campaigns to educate teens on the dangers of marijuana may be working. We know that heavy (or frequent) marijuana use negatively impacts brain development during adolescence. It also impairs academic achievement and poses other health risk behaviors among teens.

These dangers make it extremely important to implement successful strategies that prevent youth marijuana use. And let’s be honest; a ten percent drop in usage is pretty encouraging.

In Other News…

While teens may be slowing down their consumption of pot, the nation as a whole is not. In 2014, 2.5 million Americans over the age of 12 had used marijuana for the first time over the past year. This averages to 7,000 new marijuana users each day.

The perception of marijuana usage is also changing. Among all ages, fewer people view smoking marijuana as risky; increasing numbers view it as posing “no risk at all” if smoked as much as once or twice a week.

Crunching the Numbers

This latest CDC report offers a plethora of findings, including abuse rates, ages of first use and opinions regarding appropriate punishment for breaking drug laws. So what can we take away from all this information? Well, the first significance is one we’ve mentioned. If we want to protect our youth from initiating marijuana use, we need to see if current efforts are working or if they should be redoubled. Public health officials can use the CDC’s findings to further develop targeted preventions for teens.

Second, as the legality of marijuana continues to change across the nation, it’s helpful to track where we’ve been, where we are and where we are headed. Comparisons can be made at future dates to see if new laws have had any effects – either positive or negative – on our nation’s ever-changing relationship with this controversial plant.

Image Source: iStock

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