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Younger Age of Initiation to Marijuana Use Linked with Higher Rates of Disorder in NIH Study

March 30, 2021

Marijuana users between the ages of 12 and 17 were found to be twice as likely to develop a substance use disorder vs. those who initiated use between the ages of 18 and 25, according to data in a study conducted by National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers that was released on Monday.

The study, which used data from participants ages 12 to 25 in the 2015-18 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health conducted by SAMHSA, was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Alcohol, cannabis and tobacco were identified as the most commonly used substances among participants. Participants were divided into two age categories—adolescents (12 to 17 years old) and young adults (18 to 25). Reported lifetime use of each substance were as follows:

  • Adolescents: 26.3% reported lifetime use of alcohol, 15.4% cannabis, 13.4% tobacco
  • Young adults: 79.7% reported lifetime use of alcohol, 51.5% cannabis, 55% tobacco

Researchers observed a higher prevalence of substance use disorders within 12 months of initiation of cannabis use and prescription misuse among adolescents than young adults, suggesting a link between faster transition to substance use disorders and a young age of initiation. With regards to marijuana use specifically, the rate of use disorders among adolescents was 20.1% after 36 months compared to 10.9% for young adults.

“Our results underscore the vulnerability of adolescents to SUDs and the importance of screening for substance misuse among adolescents,” the researchers wrote.

The study also found that for young adults with lifetime use, 30.9% of individuals who used heroin developed a use disorder within 12 months and 24.8% of methamphetamine users developed a disorder within 12 months.

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