Working Teens More Likely to Consume Cannabis than Unemployed Adolescents

Everyone knows the stereotype of lazy, unemployed teens who do nothing all day but smoke marijuana, but that's not what the typical adolescent consumer looks like, a new study claims. In fact, the average underage consumer is the exact opposite. Working teens are actually much more likely to consume cannabis than their unemployed peers, according to an analysis of data gathered by the Health and Youth Survey conducted by Washington state.

"Between 2010 and 2016, marijuana use decreased significantly among working and non-working eighth and 10th graders. Among working 12th graders, marijuana use increased significantly over time relative to non-working youth," the study noted. "Associations were stronger for youth who worked more hours per week."

So why are working teens more likely to try cannabis? Researchers don't know for sure, but Dr. Janessa Graves - the study's leader, who is also an assistant professor at the Washington State University College of Nursing - thinks that the increase in underage cannabis consumption might stem from socializing at the workplace. Teens with jobs are more likely to come into contact with older co-workers, who might be intentionally or inadvertently exposing younger staff members to cannabis.

"Older teens start acting more like adults, but there's pretty good science out there that it's really in their best interest not to use marijuana until they're older," Graves said.

But not every job will expose kids to cannabis, of course.

"One thing I really like to highlight though is that so much of it depends on quality of the workplace," Graves told The Spokesman-Review. "Some places are really good for adolescents to work. Not all workplaces are created equal."

For example, young people who work in informal settings, such as babysitting, don't see the same increase in cannabis consumption as teens that work shifts at formal workplaces, such as retail stores. 

That's why Dr. Graves encourages parents to "monitor the safety of kids at work" and to be open about discussing "the advantages and disadvantages of working and how to navigate those pressures, not just with cannabis.”

Education is also key to protecting young people. That's why cities like Denver have invested in youth education campaigns, which have already shown positive results. And to help keep cannabis away from working teens, states should consider legalizing recreational cannabis, which has been linked with a reduction in teen cannabis use as well.

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