HHS finds marijuana use up 12%, perception of harm down

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services found that marijuana use among all Americans 12 and over – especially those over 26 – significantly increased in 2014 compared to 2013. The number of 16 and 17 year-olds using marijuana in the past month also increased, (14.2% versus 15.0%).
“We should not be surprised that marijuana use is on its way up,” remarked SAM President Kevin Sabet. “The marijuana industry is telling kids — indeed all Americans — that their product is safe and healthy. Now more than ever, we need a major public awareness effort launched in this country to counter the misinformation of Big Marijuana.”
The survey also found that the number of people, especially young people, perceiving great harm in smoking marijuana at least once a week also fell significantly. Currently, only 37% of 12-to-17 year-olds find smoking marijuana at least once a week to be harmful, compared to 55% in 2005 and 45% in 2011.
“Brains are under construction until our mid-20s,” remarked Dr. Stu Gitlow, SAM’s Vice Chair and a former President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. “We should be alarmed at these statistics – they serve as a wake-up call for all of us.”
Here in Maine, we are anticipating the release of results from the 2015 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey.  Sources I have spoken to expect those results will be available sometime in November.  Between 2011 and 2013, 30 day use of marijuana amongst Maine high school and middle school students remained statistically flat at 21.6% and 4.4% respectively.  However, we did begin to see increases bubble up in certain parts of the state, for example a nearly 57% increase in 30-day use amongst middle school youth in Androscoggin County.
While use has remained flat on a state level, as was also reflected in the national numbers just released, Maine too has seen a precipitous fall in the percentage of middle and high school youth who see regular marijuana use as harmful.  Over 58% of Maine high school youth see marijuana as harmless.  This against the backdrop of continuous misleading and factually false campaign messages in Maine from legalization advocates pitching marijuana as a safe drug.  Will we see this continued drop when the 2015 Maine numbers are released?  With any luck, we will see it move in the opposite direction as the marijuana science and public health risk messaging from Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and partners has ramped up in the past two years.  We know a growing number of parents and community leaders are hearing these messages, let’s hope in 2015 we see a reflection in the data that these messages are reaching our youth.
I will be joining the George Hale and Ric Tyler Show this coming Monday morning at 7:32 AM to talk more about these latest numbers released by HHS.  Be sure to tune in!


Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

About Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C is a Certified Prevention Specialist and is the Director of Operations at AdCare Educational Institute of Maine, Inc. He currently serves on the Maine Substance Abuse Services Commission as well as the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention National Advisory Council. Scott volunteers as the Chair of the marijuana policy education and advocacy group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and is the current Board President of the Maine Council on Problem Gambling. Scott also serves as a Co-chair of the Prevention & Harm Reduction task force of the Maine Opiate Collaborative, the effort convened by U.S. Attorney Thomas E Delahanty, II to address Maine's growing opiate and addiction crisis. Scott is the recipient of the 2015 Maine Public Health Association's Ruth S. Shaper Memorial Award and 2015 Healthy Androscoggin Will Bartlett Award and is also the 2013 recipient of the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse Prevention Award.