Cannabis vaping among youth higher in medical marijuana states

February 20, 2023

2 min read

Maynard and Schwartz report no relevant financial disclosures.

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High school seniors in states where cannabis is permitted for medical use only were more likely to report past-year cannabis vaping than those in states where it is prohibited or legalized for adult use, a recent study found.

“We were expecting medical and adult use states would be more similar,” Christian Maynard, a PhD student at Washington State University, said in a press release. “Instead, we didn’t find any statistical difference between prohibited and adult use states.”

Maynard and Jennifer Schwartz, PhD, a professor in the department of sociology at the same university, wrote in Drug and Alcohol Dependence Reports that there is an increasing prevalence of vaping among adolescents. They cited Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey data, which showed an “absolute increase of 12 percent in lifetime prevalence of vaping cannabis for 12th-graders from 2017 to 2019.”

However, “additional studies are needed on whether legal context is associated with increased cannabis vaping by adolescents,” they wrote. “Further, research has not assessed how factors such as perceived availability of cannabis vaping products and acceptability of regular cannabis use may mitigate the effects of legal context on cannabis vaping.”

The researchers analyzed 2020 MTF data consisting of responses from 3,770 high school seniors on cannabis consumption. Among them, 620 reported on accessibility of cannabis vapes, while 592 reported on the perceived risk associated with vaping.

Overall, seniors in adult-use states were more than twice as likely to have vaped cannabis in the past year compared with those in prohibited states (OR = 2.14). Meanwhile, 62.2% and 56.4% of high school seniors in medical-use states and adult-use states reported very easy access to vape cartridges, respectively.

“In terms of direct effects of perceived availability, those seniors who reported very easy access to cannabis cartridges, compared to those who did not, were more than three times as likely to have vaped cannabis in the past year, regardless of legal context [OR = 3.21],” Maynard and Schwartz wrote.

In medical-use states, 31.3% of seniors reported a perceived risk associated with cannabis use, while that percentage was 35.5% for seniors in adult-use states and 40% for seniors in prohibited states.

“It’s possible the context of saying cannabis is for medical reasons is contributing to the fact that youth view it as less risky,” Maynard said in the release.

Additionally, the researchers noted that the odds of vaping cannabis among seniors who perceived regular cannabis use as a great risk were “about one-quarter” of those who did not perceive great risk (OR = 0.24).

Maynard and Schwartz wrote that future research should utilize the longitudinal MTF survey “including various age groups to better assess causality of legal contexts on cannabis consumption and techniques by adolescents.”

Maynard also emphasized the importance of discussing cannabis with adolescents.

“We know that at a younger age, when the brain is developing, that cannabis is associated with harmful side effects,” he said in the release.


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