The latest data on cannabis consumption in America is shattering stereotypes. According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), middle-aged Americans (35-44) use cannabis more often than teens. And older demographics are having a puff more often than ever.
The CDC study used more than years of data gathered by the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which is associated with the federal government's Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Researchers found that only 7.4 percent of American youths (12-17) smoked cannabis regularly in 2014, which is a 10 percent decrease from 2002's stats. Meanwhile, 8 percent of adults aged 35-44 used marijuana regularly in 2014, surpassing adolescent use for the first time since NSDUH began collecting data with their current methodology. (Read more about that here.)
So minors are smoking less on a regular basis and adults are smoking more - especially older demographics. Use among the 45-54 crowd increased by nearly 50 percent since 2002. And the number of regular smokers in the 55-64 and 65+ demos jumped by 455 percent and 333 percent respectively.
That said, the percentage of regular users only increased from 1.1 to 6.1 percent for the 55-64 age group, and from 0.3 to 1.3 percent for Americans over 65. So don't expect your parents' retirement home to open a vape lounge anytime soon. But if the spike continues, you might want to get coworkers a gold-plated vape instead of a watch as a retirement present.
The CDC researchers noted that minors are not only using cannabis less but also having a harder time getting it.
"[S]ince 2002 the perceived availability (i.e., fairly easy or very easy to obtain marijuana) among persons aged 12–17 and 18–25 years has decreased," the report reads. The drop in supply might explain the decrease in underage consumption. That's why proponents of legalization like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau say the best way to keep cannabis away from kids is to legalize and regulate it like tobacco and alcohol.
But don't celebrate the CDC's report as a win for legalization just yet. Researchers say it's too soon to conclude that legalizing recreational marijuana has curbed use among youths.
"Legalization of recreational marijuana in some states is relatively recent, and continued monitoring of marijuana use and frequency of use among youth is needed because these effects might be delayed. Use patterns among youth do not yet provide an accurate reflection of how legalization in some states will affect national estimates on marijuana use. In the interim, additional evaluation might determine that community-based substance use prevention efforts have contributed to this decline."
However, they did bust the myth that legalization would lead to increased use among minors. Anti-marijuana politicians like Florida Senator Marco Rubio often claim that repealing prohibition will lead to more kids trying cannabis because they think it's safe. In April 2015, Senator Rubio said, "when you legalize something, what you're sending a message to young people is it can't be that bad, because if it was that bad, it wouldn't be legal."
No evidence that legalization increases teen use
But the CDC couldn't find evidence to support that argument. "The fact that this inverse association was not found among youth is notable, given the hypothesis that legalization of medical and recreational marijuana use could lead to increases in youth initiation." In fact, the report found that underage consumption was down even though today's youths consider marijuana less harmful than kids did years ago.
Another busted myth is that legalization would lead to higher rates of dependence. Last week, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said he opposed his state's ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana because it would lead to a spike in drug addiction.
“If we want to expand this universe of people that are addicted and abusing drugs, well you’ll have that chance in November,’’ Governor Ducey said during a press conference. "I, for one, the person who has to deal with the 19,000 children that are in our foster care system that has 85 percent of their parents that are abusing or are addicted to drugs, do not think we should expand that universe or that it would be a good idea in any way.’’
But the CDC didn't find an increase in the number of people addicted to cannabis even though more adults are using it.
"Typically, increased prevalence of marijuana use has been linked to increased prevalence of marijuana dependence or abuse. These findings suggest that refined measures of frequency (e.g., number of times per day, week, month, or year) of use might be needed to better quantify how often and what types of products (e.g., inhaled, eaten, infused, drank) persons are using to better estimate and understand marijuana consumption in the United States.
In other words, adults are becoming responsible, educated consumers. And that's definitely a win for the legalization movement.