Cannabis use among US adolescents increased by 245 percent between 2000 and 2020, with edible weed gaining in popularity at a higher rate than any other mode of consumption. At the same time, alcohol use has plummeted, allowing cannabis to overtake booze as the most abused substance by young people in the US.
Researchers analyzed the National Poison Data System (NPDS) to assess intentional drug abuse rates among kids aged six to 18 between January 1, 2000, and December 31, 2020. In doing so, they found that alcohol was the most widely used substance at the turn of the millennium, accounting for around 10 percent of all drug use by youngsters in 2000.
However, as the popularity of alcohol has fallen over the past two decades, cannabis use has become increasingly widespread among adolescents. “Since 2018, the most reported misused/abused substance involved exposure to marijuana,” write the researchers.
Breaking the numbers down in a statement, study author Dr Adrienne Hughes explained that “ethanol abuse cases exceeded the number of marijuana cases every year from 2000 until 2013.” However, “since 2014, marijuana exposure cases have exceeded ethanol cases every year, and by a greater amount each year than the prior,” she said.
Overall, the researchers identified 338,727 cases of intentional drug abuse or misuse by children and adolescents over the 20-year study period. Figures fluctuated by year, with 2011 seeing the highest number of incidents.
In 2000, a total of 1,318 cases of alcohol abuse were recorded, yet this fell to 916 in 2020. In contrast, incidents involving weed rose from 510 in 2000 to 1,761 in 2020.
“Edible marijuana preparations had the highest average monthly increase in call rates compared with all other forms of marijuana,” explain the study authors. Specifically, they state that “there was an increase in edible marijuana exposures by 11.7 cases per month from 2000 to 2020.”
Other cannabis concentrates such as vaping liquids have also risen in popularity, with evidence suggesting that young people may consider the use of such products to be less conspicuous than smoking weed. “These edible and vaping products are often marketed in ways that are attractive to young people, and they are considered more discrete and convenient,” said Hughes.
However, she points out that edibles can often hit harder than inhaled cannabis, and that many youngsters inadvertently ingest very high doses of cannabinoids when consuming the drug through the gut. “Compared to smoking cannabis, which typically results in an immediate high, intoxication from edible forms of marijuana usually takes several hours, which may lead some individuals to consume greater amounts and experience unexpected and unpredictable highs,” she said.
Overall, the most abused substance across the two decades was an over-the-counter cough medication called Dextromethorphan. However, use of this drug has been falling steadily since 2006, largely thanks to the fact that many states chose to ban Dextromethorphan sales to minors from 2012 onwards.
The researchers also identified 450 drug-related deaths in young people during this period, most of which were associated with misuse of opioids. While this figure may seem small, a rather worrying 32.6 percent of all drug ingestions by young people between 2000 and 2020 resulted in “worse than minor clinical outcomes.”
Summing up, Hughes explained that the “study describes an upward trend in marijuana abuse exposures among youth, especially those involving edible products.”
“These findings highlight an ongoing concern about the impact of rapidly evolving cannabis legalization on this vulnerable population.”
The study appears in the journal Clinical Toxicology.