A new study by the UK-based medical journal The Lancet Psychiatry has found that about 10 million more Americans are now smoking marijuana compared to 12 years ago.
Against the backdrop of at least five US states – including California – readying themselves for a vote on whether or not to legalize marijuana for recreational use, the British medical journal The Lancet Psychiatry has published a study that has indicated a shifting attitude toward cannabis use over the last decade.
Using data from 596,500 adults surveyed between 2002 and 2014 for the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the study arrived at its conclusion that 10 million more people are smoking marijuana in the US than was the case 12 years ago.
Lancet Psychiatry’s Key Findings
So how did the study’s authors arrive at the 10 million figure?
Well, among the study’s key findings was that, between 2002 and 2014, the percentage of American adults who admitted to smoking marijuana at least once in the previous 12 months grew from 10.4% to 13.3%.
That 2.9% increase represents – you guessed it – an additional 10 million Americans who used cannabis at least once in the past year. This subsequently brought the population who admitted using from 21.9 million in 2002 to 31.9 million in 2014.
Dr. Wilson M Compton, a researcher at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and an author of the study, said that he and his fellow authors had expected to observe an increase. This was primarily due to the fact that the laws in the US have steadily changed over the past few years with a number of states passing laws allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
However, another finding from the study was a little more surprising. That was the number of people who are using cannabis on a daily or near daily basis. That group increased from 3.9 million to 8.4 million – or 1.9% of the US population to 3.5% – over the same period. And the proportion of adults trying marijuana for the first time also increased, from 0.7% to 1.1%.
Highlighting Responsible Use and a Change in Attitude
A survey by the US federal government, released last year, found that the rate of people who regularly abused marijuana had almost doubled between 2001 and 2012, increasing from 1.5% of the general population to 2.9%.
However, this finding was contradicted by The Lancet Psychiatry study. The study found that the number had remained static at 1.5%. And, with this figure in mind, the researchers also discovered a clear shift in attitude towards marijuana.
The study set out to determine whether these shifting attitudes had impacted the perception of harm and, therefore, the use of marijuana among Americans.
It found that Americans viewed marijuana as less risky and that the biggest shift had occurred around 2007. Meanwhile, the proportion of American adults who said using marijuana twice a week posed a great health risk fell from 50.4% in 2002 to 33.3% in 2014.
“What a Lot of People Know to Be True”
A number of pro-legalization groups have welcomed the results published in the Lancet Psychiatry study and, in particular, the assertion that the number of people with a “use disorder” (that is to say, people who abused marijuana) had not increased.
Mason Tvert, a spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, was quoted in The Guardian as saying that the study “really highlights what a lot people already know to be true. Countless adults consume marijuana responsibly and should not be treated as if they are drug abusers.”
And while this may be the case, the study’s authors still came to the conclusion that this increased usage points to a need for better education regarding the risks and side-effects of smoking marijuana, even if they are widely debated.
Why Have We Seen a Shift to the Left?
It’s simple, really. According to this Bloomberg article, grassroots referendums are on the rise once more with 73 approved for ballots in the 26 states that allow them. That’s the highest number since 2006 and almost 50% more than in 2012. And the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot in many of these states is based upon the voter turnout of the previous statewide election.
For those with leanings to the left, the fact that 2014 was the lowest turnout since World War 2 has certainly helped them further their causes, with marijuana legalization chief among them.
This has led to residents of Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada having the opportunity to vote on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes in November. Meanwhile, Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota will vote on whether to join the other US states that have medical marijuana laws.
What’s more, this shift to the left has been further energized by a broad change in attitudes and a surprising evolution in demographic when it comes to marijuana use. A recent government survey has shown that middle-aged Americans are now slightly more likely to use cannabis than teenagers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of Americans aged 12 to 17 who smoked marijuana regularly in 2014 had declined by 10% since 2002. Meanwhile 8% of 35- to 44-year-olds surveyed in 2014 admitted to using marijuana regularly, surpassing the teens for the first time.
And it’s not just the middle-aged Americans who are partaking more often. Those using among American adults aged 45 to 54 has increased by 50% while those aged 55 to 64 has grown by an incredible 455% (four hundred and fifty-five percent!), and for seniors aged 65 plus, marijuana use is up 333% (three hundred and thirty-three percent!) since 2002.
The narrative of the marijuana legalization debate has largely focused upon the negative impact on adolescents. However, the findings of the Lancet Psychiatry study, and this growing movement of older cannabis users, should steer it back towards discussing the potential medical benefits of the plant.
What do you think of the findings of the Lancet Psychiatry study? Does it mirror your own experiences with friends and family members who use marijuana? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.