Marijuana Use Not Associated with Bad Behavior in Teens, Study Finds

Teens who use marijuana are no more likely to engage in future bad behavior.

A common fear for parents of teens is that exposure to marijuana encourages patterns of bad behavior. New research suggests that those worries are unjustified.

In a study recently published in the journal Addiction, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania examined whether teen marijuana use leads to “conduct problems,” including stealing, lying, skipping school, setting fires, or using dangerous drugs.

With adult marijuana use rates rising and legalization now in 32 U.S. states, the researchers wanted to see whether there was a connection between teen marijuana use and behavior problems.

The study consisted of several hundred Philadelphia teens between the ages of 10 and 12 that were regularly interviewed about their drug use and behavior over a five-year period. Researchers also used urine tests to validate drug use.

They found no evidence that youth marijuana use encourage future bad behavior, nor that it leads to them using dangerous drugs later on.

“Concerns about marijuana leading to all kinds of other behavioral problems don’t seem to be supported,” study co-author Dan Romer told WHYY. “We found no relationship between using marijuana and seeking out peers who use marijuana, and no relationship with conduct problems.”

The study by Romer and his colleagues was prompted by previous findings out of New Zealand back in the 1990s that indicated that adolescents who used marijuana experienced negative consequences.

Romer and his team found the opposite. The kids in their study that revealed behavioral issues had displayed conduct problems before they started using marijuana.

“Previous research had suggested that using marijuana would lead to conduct problems – we found the exact reverse,” Romer explained. “Conduct problems were predictive of using marijuana, and they were also predictive of finding friends who use marijuana.”

The study offers a handful of explanations for why a teen engaged in bad behavior would be more likely to use cannabis. The first is that young people with behavior issues may also be more likely attracted to rebellious activities. The researchers also suggest that troubled teens could have more issues at home and be turning to marijuana to self-medicate.

The main takeaway of the study is that marijuana use in teens does not appear to set them out on a path of bad behavior. The findings should provide comfort to parents who may have been overly concerned about their well-behaved kids experimenting with marijuana while under age.

“There was no evidence that use of cannabis led to the development of conduct disorder or to more serious use of other drugs; all of the evidence pointed to the reverse,” Romer wrote in The Conversation.

You can read through the full text of the new study, “Disentangling longitudinal relations between youth cannabis use, peer cannabis use, and conduct problems: developmental cascading links to cannabis use disorder,” at Wiley Online Library.

Teens and Cannabis

While middle-aged Americans are using marijuana at a higher rate, use among adolescents is down. Teen marijuana use has continued to decrease as marijuana legalization has expanded throughout the U.S., and is now at a 22-year low.

Many studies have shown that teens are not adversely affected by the passing of cannabis laws. Legalizing and regulating marijuana for adults does not make it easier for teens to access, nor does it encourage them to use.

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