Marijuana is the most widely used drug in the United States with 40.9 million users reported in 2017 (SAMHSA, 2017). Perceived risk and harm related to marijuana use is at an all-time low (Gruber, 2015) and the impact of marijuana use on the adolescent brain is a source of increasing concern, especially by early onset users (younger than age 16) (Filbey, 2015). A brief window of opportunity exists where parental influence in early adolescence is stronger, before changing to favor peer influences (King, Vidourek, & Merianos, 2015; Tang & Orwin, 2009). Preventing and/or delaying marijuana use in adolescence may decrease the opportunities for deleterious effects upon the developing adolescent brain, as those effects may not be as problematic the older the adolescent is when marijuana use begins (Dahlgren, 2016).
The current study examined factors related to the age when adolescents first use marijuana. Further, the correlation between the early onset of marijuana use and adolescent suicidal ideation was examined, since it is an area identified as needing more study (Bechtold et al., 2015).
The study used a publicly available dataset, collected and managed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) via the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) 2017. The original study collected data through an annual survey from people aged 12 years and older on substance use and issues of mental health (Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, 2018). The current study focused on adolescents aged 12 – 17 and examined whether positive authority figures in the adolescent’s life and peer influences would significantly predict adolescent marijuana use while controlling for gender and race/ethnicity, utilizing multiple regression analysis. The study also investigated the relationship between adolescent marijuana use and suicidal ideation in adolescents.
Correlation analysis suggests a positive relationship between early age onset marijuana use and adolescent suicidal ideation. Multiple regression analysis suggests positive messages from parents to adolescents provide the strongest singular influence upon early age of initiation of marijuana use. These findings support existing recent literature.
Conclusion and Implications
Identifying factors for delaying the age of initiation of marijuana use in adolescents is crucial to supporting the healthy development of youth (Social Work Grand Challenge #1). Supporting parents in their positive influence upon their adolescent children can delay deleterious mental health effects upon adolescents. As national concern in the United States over legalization of marijuana for recreational use accelerates towards increased availability of marijuana to adolescents as well as reduced perception of risk, it is timely to address issues of adolescent marijuana use as a growing public health concern.