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Study Measures Adolescent Marijuana Use and Perceived Risk

Marijuana use among adolescents is an important element to measure. It is also important to understand their perception of risk when engaging in this activity as it can have a significant impact on their likelihood to engage and the frequency of use.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) released a report: Marijuana Use and Perceived Risk of Use Among Adolescents: 2202 to 2007, that examines trends in the past month marijuana use and the perception of risk among teens between the ages of 12 and 17 between 2002 and 2007. The report also uses data from 2007 to evaluate demographic differences between use and risk perception.

The good news is that the prevalence of past month marijuana use decreased among adolescents from 2002 to 2005. The use in 2002 was 8.2 percent, while use in 2005 was 6.8 percent. This statistic then remained constant between 2005 and 2007. There was a slight increase in perceived risk from 2002 at 32.4 percent and 2003 at 34.9 percent. From that point forward, the perception remained relatively stable to 2007.

Perceived risk appears to be having an impact on adolescents as those who perceived great risk from smoking marijuana once a month were much less likely to have used it in the past month than those who perceived little to no risk. Those who perceived great risk only used marijuana 1.4 percent of the time while those who perceived little to no risk used 9.5 percent of the time.

In the year 2007, 6.7 percent of adolescents, or an estimated 1.7 million people, used marijuana in the past month. Males used the drug 7.5 percent of the time, versus females who used only 5.8 percent of the time. Usage also appeared to increase with age. For those aged 12 to 13, usage was only at 0.9 percent, while those 14 to 15 used 5.7 percent. Usage increased drastically in older adolescents as 16 to 17 year-olds used 13.1 percent of the time.

In this same year, 34.5 percent of adolescents perceived great risk from engaging in this activity once a month. Females were more likely to perceive risk as they identified it 36.7 percent of the time, versus males who made the connection 32.4 percent of the time. Perceived risk decreased with age as 12 year-olds tended to perceive the risk 42.1 percent of the time, while 17 year-olds only perceived risk 26.9 percent of the time.

This research highlights that at ages more susceptible to adult influence, adolescents are more likely to perceive the risk of marijuana use and avoid it. At the same time, as teens get older, they tend to ignore the warning signs and go along with their peers. As this information is captured, it is important that policy makers and educators understand this phenomenon when delivering prevention messages to this demographic.

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