Americans’ Marijuana Use Has Doubled In The Past Decade

By May Wilkerson 10/22/15

Is it because marijuana is becoming legal and more widely available?

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Marijuana is on the up and up, and up. Marijuana use in the United States has doubled in the past decade as more states move to legalize it, a new study finds.

The percentage of American adults who admitted to marijuana use jumped from 4.1% in 2001-02 to 9.5% in 2012-13, according to the study published in JAMA Psychiatry this week. The research, by scientists from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, shows that use of the drug rose across all groups studied, but especially among women, minorities, people who live in the South and those who are middle-aged or older.

According to the study’s authors, this overall increase is to be expected as marijuana becomes increasingly legal and more widely available. There are now 23 states with medical marijuana laws and four states where marijuana is legal for adult recreational use.

As more people use pot, more abuse or misuse it as well. The study found that three out of every 10 of those who had used pot in the past year qualified for a marijuana use disorder, which means abuse or dependence on the drug. That’s about 6.8 million Americans. There was an especially significant increase in marijuana use disorders among minorities, people aged 45 to 64, people living in the South and those with lower income levels.

"The trend upward in marijuana use indicates that more adults are at risk for marijuana-related adverse consequences, including the risk of marijuana use disorders (abuse or dependence) that we showed,” said the study's lead author, Deborah Hasin, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University. “Our findings are consistent with the studies of others that have shown increases in problems such as cannabis-related emergency room visits and fatal vehicle crashes."

However, though marijuana use disorders have increased as more people use the drug, the percentage of overall marijuana users with use disorders actually decreased from about 36% in 2001-02 to about 31% in 2012-13. This suggests people are using the drug more responsibly or seeking treatment for dependence.

Though marijuana is considered relatively less dangerous than other illicit drugs, it is not without risk.

"As is the case with alcohol, many individuals can use marijuana without becoming addicted,” wrote the authors. “However, the clear risk for marijuana use disorders among users (approximately 30%) suggests that as the number of U.S. users grows, so will the numbers of those experiencing problems related to such use."

Hasin added: "This is important information for individuals to consider when making personal choices about using marijuana, and for the public to have when considering legalization."

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.