Teen Marijuana Use: Beyond Getting High, It’s About Enjoyment and Coping

New research reveals that teenagers who frequently use marijuana do so for either enjoyment or coping purposes, shedding light on the complex motivations behind cannabis use among adolescents.

The study found that teens using marijuana for pleasure or as a coping mechanism show an increased demand for the substance. This heightened demand translates to a willingness to consume more marijuana when it’s freely available and spend more money to acquire it, according to the researchers.

Notably, these adolescents also reported experiencing negative consequences associated with cannabis use, including heightened anxiety, regrettable decisions, difficulties with memory and concentration, engaging in foolish or goofy behavior, and challenges in school or employment.

Lead researcher Nicole Schultz, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, Davis, emphasized the importance of understanding the variables contributing to teenage cannabis use. Schultz noted that early onset of cannabis use is linked to the likelihood of developing a cannabis use disorder, highlighting the need for effective early intervention strategies.

Marijuana stands as the most widely used drug among teens, with nearly 31% of 12th graders reporting use in the past year and over 6% in the past month. The legalization of cannabis for recreational use in 24 states and the District of Columbia has likely influenced these usage patterns.

The study focused on participants aged 15 to 18, aiming to decipher the motivations behind marijuana use in this age group. The reasons for use often evolve over time, with recreational motives potentially transforming into coping mechanisms as substance use becomes problematic.

Three out of five participants were high school students, while one in four were college students. All participants resided in the Seattle metropolitan area, where recreational cannabis use is legal for those aged 21 and older.

The study, published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, highlights that using marijuana for enjoyment is associated with its initiation, while using it as a coping mechanism is linked to a willingness to consume more, spend more on cannabis, and tolerate higher prices for marijuana.

Senior researcher Jason Ramirez, an assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington, suggested that encouraging substance-free activities that are enjoyable for adolescents and aid in coping with negative feelings could potentially reduce cannabis use and minimize associated negative consequences.

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