One of the greatest fears associated with the legalization of marijuana was its potential to be a gateway drug for minors. One puff of the Devil’s lettuce and your life would be resigned to a downward spiral of other, nastier drugs and bad decisions.

How would our kids ever stand a chance?

Well, apparently the kids are doing just fine.

A recent study published by Alcohol & Dependence found that in states with medical marijuana laws (MML), teen drug use didn’t increase. In fact, teen drug use in states with MML either remained the same or decreased, depending on age.

The full impacts of medical or recreational marijuana legalization are still not well-known.

However, there is growing consensus that access to medical marijuana doesn’t pose a threat to adolescents. In fact, medical marijuana enactment in most states correlated with a drop in teen substance abuse.




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Over 1 million teenagers were studied from 1991 to 2015

Researchers wanted to study the relationship between states with medical marijuana laws (MML) and the use of all kinds of drugs: marijuana, cigarettes, illicit drugs, opioids, amphetamines, tranquilizers, and even alcohol.

The study itself was massive: over 1 million 8th, 10th, and 12th graders were studied across 48 states via surveys conducted from 1991 to 2015. The survey allowed students to self-report any drug use within the last 30 days.

This survey gauged the drug use of teens, and also examine if medical marijuana laws had any effect on this drug use.


Gateway drug? Not so much.

The 15-year study produced some surprising results — medical marijuana states did not see a spike in teen drug use. However, the results varied depending on age.

For 8th graders, the use of marijuana, alcohol, cigarettes, opioids, amphetamines, tranquilizers and other substances decreased after medical marijuana laws were enacted.

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The study also concluded that for 10th graders, the use of these substances remained the same after medical marijuana laws were in place.

For 12th graders, two types of drug categories increased in usage: non-medical prescription opioids and cigarettes.

Medical marijuana laws lead to less substance abuse

The findings are good news for medical marijuana advocates. Legalization efforts have had to fight concerns that marijuana legalization would lead to a spike in substance abuse. This study indicates that those fears are unfounded.

States with medical marijuana laws overall experienced a decrease in drug use among teenagers. Except 12th graders which saw an increase in the use of non-medical prescription opioids and cigarettes.

The report does not draw any conclusion that medical marijuana laws were directly responsible for the decrease in drug use.

However, the report does implicate that medical marijuana states do not expose teens to greater drug use. This report can allay concerns that medical marijuana is a gateway for teens to engage in substance abuse.

Perhaps future research can explain if and how medical marijuana laws can help teens use less, not more, illicit and unhealthy substances.

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What about you? Do you think medical marijuana laws have any positive or negative effect on teen drug use? Let us know in the comments below.