Is Teen Drinking Worse Than Teen Marijuana Use?

Medical and Recreational Marijuana Dispensaries

Dispatches from the Highlands

Marijuana news from contributing authors and staff writers on the latest in marijuana and medical marijuana

December 9, 2016
Denver, CO

Every year, more and more Americans support marijuana legalization. In 2010, 41 percent of Americans favored legalization; by 2014, 54 percent supported such reforms, per the Pew Research Center. This shift in attitudes has also been reflected in legislation across the country: Weed is fully legal in the states of Washington and Colorado, and at least 18 other states will have enacted some form of decriminalization by October 2014, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Lawas.

However, in the growing number of pro-pot places, there are concerns about the public health impacts, specifically with regard to adolescents. Colorado has launched an ad campaign featuring "human-sized rat cages" displayed at teen friendly locales, such as skate parks, with signs reading "Don't be a lab rat" and "Could marijuana really cause schizophrenia in teenagers? Volunteers, anyone?" to educate youth that pot does pose risks to developing brains, according to the Washington Post.

And in a new American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse study, researchers compared the psychosocial impacts of marijuana and alcohol on this same age group. The researchers, from New York University's Center for Drug Use and HIV Research, analyzed data from 7,437 high school seniors who had responded to a national, annual behavioral questionnaire, called the "Monitoring the Future" study. Two-thirds of the teens reported drinking alcohol and fifty percent said they smoked pot. The researchers found that both groups experienced adverse psychosocial impacts, but that the specific impacts differed depending on the drug. For example, with regard to relationships, marijuana tended to compromise teens' relationships with teachers and bosses more than alcohol, whereas alcohol typically compromised their relationships with friends and significant others. In this data set, marijuana was also more  closely linked with lower school or job performance; alcohol, on the other hand, is more likely to lead to teens "engaging in behaviors they regretted."

Probably the most important finding, at least when it comes to overall public health, is the relationship between frequent imbibing and driving under the influence. "The most alarming finding was that alcohol use was highly associated with unsafe driving, especially among frequent drinkers," Joseph J. Palamar, PhD and lead study author, said in a statement about the research. "Compared to non-drinkers, frequent drinkers were over 13 times more likely to report that their alcohol use has led to unsafe driving. Marijuana users, compared to non-users, were three times more likely to report unsafe driving as a direct result of use."

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