More American adults are using marijuana, and fewer believe that regularly doing so carries health risks, according to a new study.
The number of American adults who are consuming recreational marijuana jumped up ten million between 2002 and 2014, according to a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry.
The survey, led by Dr. Wilson M. Compton of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found that in 2002, 21.9 million Americans (10.4 percent) had used cannabis in the previous year. That number rose to 31.9 million (13.3 percent) in 2014. The number of daily or near-daily users was at 3.9 million in 2002, compared to an estimated 8.4 million in 2014.
The change in the prevalence of cannabis users is likely associated with the relaxing of cannabis policies. Researchers found that the prevalence and frequency of marijuana use increased in American adults starting around 2007 and then jumped significantly between 2011 and 2014. By 2007, 12 U.S. states had legalized medical marijuana. Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis use, which they did in 2012. Two additional states, Oregon and Alaska, have since passed recreational marijuana laws.
Despite the greater overall use by adults, the study did not find an increase in substance abuse or dependence disorders. In fact, the study found that abuse fell nearly 30 percent during the 12-year period. In 2002, 16.7 percent of cannabis consumers fit the study’s criteria for dependence, compared to 11.9 percent in 2014.
The study’s criteria for marijuana dependence were outlined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It included having unsuccessful attempts to reduce use, the development of withdrawal symptoms and disruptions in functioning at work, school or home.
Cannabis researchers Roger Roffman told marijuana information site Leafy that the drop in abuse numbers could also be associated with the loosening of cannabis laws.
“First, if it’s true, this reduction in percentages of users with the use disorder could be a very positive and important public health consequence of legalization,” he said.
The study, which surveyed nearly 600,000 U.S. adults, also found that the proportion of people who feared risk of health harm from consuming marijuana once or twice a week dropped from 50.4 percent to 33.3 percent over the 12-year period. The change in perceived marijuana use and risk was found to begin between 2006 and 2007, and continued to lower each year.
Federally, marijuana continues to remain classified as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Within established state marijuana markets, however, sales are booming. Washington just recorded recreational marijuana sales of $121 million for the month of July alone. Colorado continues to break its monthly marijuana sales record, with marijuana tax reports from the Colorado Department of Revenue reporting $117.4 million in marijuana sales for the month of April. Oregon’s adult use marijuana sales, which began just last fall, are already blowing out initial estimates.
Marijuana sales are likely to continue to grow, with nine different states set to vote on cannabis initiatives this fall. Voters in five states – Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada – will decide whether to legalize adult use marijuana.