02 Oct Report Compares Early Marijuana Initiation with Adult Initiation
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) produces regular reports that highlight trends in substance use. Using the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), a database of all admissions to substance abuse treatment centers in the United States, SAMHSA is able to identify patterns in substance abuse in various subsets of the population.
Identifying trends among various age groups, races and income levels allows policymakers to see where treatment centers are needed. Additionally, the reports can highlight which substances are most used by certain groups of people and whether current strategies in education, prevention and intervention are effective.
A recent report using TEDS provides information about marijuana use, specifically comparing the admission information for those that began using marijuana in adolescence versus those who began using in adulthood. The report includes information about admissions between the ages of 18 and 30 at substance abuse treatment centers.
The report offers background information, highlighting the dangers associated with marijuana use, such as impaired short-term memory, judgment and cognitive functions. Lasting problems include insomnia and the possibility of impaired learning and memory functions. For teens with brains that are still developing, the problems can be more severe: permanent impairment of cognitive function and structure, with widespread effects that impact academic and professional achievement as well as relationships.
The TEDS analysis shows that in 2010 there were 687,531 instances of substance abuse treatment admissions for those between the ages of 18 and 30, of which over 340,000 reported marijuana use. Of those, 86.8 percent reported that they had begun using marijuana before the age of 17. An additional 13.2 percent initiated marijuana use at the age of 18 or older. These figures remained relatively constant from 2000 to 2010.
Demographic information about the admissions showed that marijuana users tended to be male and non-Hispanic. These factors were most prominent among the users who were early initiates. Among those over the age of 21, approximately 62 percent of early initiates had finished high school, while approximately 70 percent of adult initiates had finished high school.
In 2010, those that began using marijuana before adulthood initiated use after the age of 12 (87.9 percent), and 12.1 percent began at age 11 or younger. The majority of adult initiates began using marijuana between the ages of 18 and 24 (95.9 percent).
The duration of use of marijuana differed by initiation age, too. Those who began using marijuana before the age of 17 had an average duration of 9.7 years of use, while adult initiates had an average duration of use of 5.4 years.
When comparing the groups for primary substance of use, the early initiates and adult initiates were similar in their rates of marijuana for primary substance of use, at 47.9 percent and 50.6 percent for early initiates and adult initiates, respectively.
However, early initiates indicated that they used a wider variety of substances when compared with adult initiates. Early initiates used an average of 2.2 additional substances compared with an average of 2.0 substances for adult initiates. This figure should be viewed in light of the TEDS practice of collecting data for up to three additional substances.
About one-quarter of both early initiates and adult initiates reported having a co-occurring mental disorder and similar rates of both groups reported being homeless.
It is important to understand the differences between early initiates and adult initiates of marijuana use. Given the cognitive functions impacted by the early initiation of marijuana use, treatment of this population can be complex. Understanding the dynamics of those who initiate marijuana use during adolescence can help ensure that appropriate treatment is available and effective.
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