Pot Use Is "Double" in States Where Medical Marijuana Is Legal

Categories: Health, Marijuana
Doubling Up
Here's something you can file under "you don't say": The rate of marijuana use in states that allow medical marijuana is nearly double that of states that don't allow medical marijuana, according to a Columbia University study.

That said, marijuana "abuse" rates are not necessarily higher in states that allow medical marijuana, despite higher availability and possible higher "acceptance."

What makes places like California, Vermont, Hawaii, and Oregon -- some of the 10 states that allowed medical marijuana as of 2004 and included in the study -- doubly smokier than other states? There's more marijuana around, for one -- but in a Zen-like twist, there's also more acceptance. However, according to some researchers, medical laws don't have a causal effect on marijuana use. And what's more, there's no direct link between medical and general use -- which could be the same everywhere in the country.

How's that, you say?

The study, "Medical marijuana laws in 50 states: Investigating the relationship between state legalization of medical marijuana and marijuana use, abuse and dependence," was published in the January 2012 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependency. Somehow, it's evaded both ou news alerts and, it appears, the general medical marijuana news machine, in part because it's less splashy than the studies examining marijuana use among teens, crime rates and dispensaries, and marijuana use and automobile accidents.

Researchers found that people in the states with medical marijuana laws on the books as of 2004 -- when the data, from the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, were created -- self-report marijuana use at a rate 1.92 times that of people in non-medical states.

There was much more information to use in some states than in others: 50 respondents in Vermont, to nearly 4,000 in California, the study notes.

The study also examines self-reported marijuana "abuse," something that's contentious among marijuana users and advocates. Those kinds of folks won't likely agree that there's a such thing as marijuana addiction, while prohibition-minded public health advocates might.

A few reasons for this doubling were suggested. One, there's more marijuana around and available. Another, the medical efficacy of the drug increases acceptance of its use and self-reporting thereof. But most importantly is the fact that when medical marijuana laws are on the books, there's a decrease in the idea that using marijuana is risky behavior. Moreover, there's also increased social acceptance, meaning people may be more willing to admit to smoking marijuana.

Researchers wrote that there's no "causal" link between medical laws and increased marijuana use or abuse. The community acceptance phenomenon may be the most interesting, however: if everyone else is doing it, and doing it on the books, on the level -- then why not admit to a study that you're doing it, too?

Herd behavior: fueling marijuana studies since 2004.

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