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As much as conservative prohibitionists would love to point the finger at marijuana for the bad behavior of teens, it seems that is not the case. They have cried “but what message are we sending our children?” Well, the data is in, and the message is clear. Kids don’t care either way.

Legal and accepted? So lame

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At the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Richard Grucza and a group of colleagues have compiled the data on teens and cannabis over the last 15 years or so, and despite what anti-drug groups like National Families in Action have stated, commercial cannabis hasn’t been a factor that has proven to:

Literally dumb down the precious minds of generations of children. – NFA president

The number of American teens with cannabis-related problems has plummeted.

A substantial decline

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We were surprised to see substantial declines in marijuana use and abuse. Whatever is happening with these behavioral issues, it seems to be outweighing any effects of marijuana decriminalization. – Grucza

Using data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is administered annually, the research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and will be published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. According to the study,

 The reduction in the past-year prevalence of marijuana use disorders among adolescents took place during a period when 10 U.S. states relaxed criminal sanctions against adult marijuana use and 13 states enacted medical marijuana policies. During this period, teenagers also became less likely to perceive marijuana use as risky, and marijuana use became more socially acceptable among young adults.

Children, defying us at every turn

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While this scenario of reduced penalties, less perceived risk, and greater access should have made for the perfect storm, according to conservative alarmists, it appears that being less controversial makes it less interesting to many teens. Go figure, we tell them something is a horrible, bad thing, they run to it to spite us, knowing we are lying. Then we say it is acceptable for adults and not a big deal, and they stop finding it to be daring and worth the trouble. We should have told them the truth decades ago.

The backlash of young adults trying to create their own self-identity apart from their parents has been a tragically comical cycle for a long time. As the old joke goes, children of WWII soldiers became Hippies, and their children became Yuppies.

The data suggests an interesting correlation

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Not only did the researchers find that cannabis use was down, but non-drug related problem behavior was also decreasing. They decided to break the groups down even further. Those who manifested other problems along with cannabis use (fighting, stealing, aggression with parents), and the group who only experienced cannabis-related issues.

The decrease in cannabis use was almost exclusively in the group with other problems.

We observed a decline in the proportion of adolescents who both reported conduct problems and met criteria for marijuana use disorders. In contrast, the proportion of adolescents with marijuana use disorders who did not report conduct problems remained relatively constant.

Long-standing research has shown a strong correlation between these problems and drug use in general.

Other research shows that psychiatric disorders earlier in childhood are strong predictors of marijuana use later on. So it’s likely that if these disruptive behaviors are recognized earlier in life, we may be able to deliver therapies that will help prevent marijuana problems – and possibly problems with alcohol and other drugs, too.

The truly big factor in teen use

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The study adds to an already sizeable body of research that shows that cannabis policy has a far smaller effect on teenage drug use than alarmists would like to believe. The Monitoring the Future Study found no change between pre-legalization teen use and post-legalization use. Even in states with legal adult recreational use, federal studies show little change in teen cannabis use. A paper in Lancet Psychiatry also found no effect from law changes on teen drug use.

If we truly want to prevent teen drug use, the answer lies not in waging expensive wars on plants, nor in lying to them about the real dangers or lack thereof. The best way to decrease use is to improve their quality of life. Happy, loved, appreciated children don’t feel the need to experiment with drugs. Teens feeling a lack of something in their lives, however, look anywhere to fill the hole. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Do you have children that have tried drugs? How did you deal with the dilemma? Did you go for the riot act or the reasonable discussion? Share your experiences on social media or in the comments below.

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