College students have been using more and more marijuana in recent years, but that trend has been particularly pronounced in states where the drug is legal, according to a new Oregon State University study.
The study published Monday in the journal Addiction is the first to look at multiple states that legalized recreational marijuana between 2012 and 2017. While the results are intuitive, the research could be important for setting policy to prevent young people from getting hooked on drugs, one of the key researchers said.
“As states start to legalize recreational marijuana, there could be a lot of public health implications,” said Harold Bae, an assistant professor at the university’s College of Public Health and Human Services. “But the policymakers probably cannot do anything, because they do not have any evidence based on studies such as ours.”
The study found that the growth in marijuana use was particularly pronounced for women, students 21 and over and students living off-campus.
“These are very clear risk factors that could be used to guide screening for selective prevention,” the authors wrote.
As many people know first-hand, people experiment with drugs and other things in college. A risk that comes with that is the potential for habitual drug use.
That, Bae said, is why the results alarmed him.
The results showed that the longer marijuana was legal in the state, the greater the increase in use among college students. And those students, Bae said, appear to be more likely to be using the drug habitually — not just experimenting.
The researchers used data from a twice-a-year questionnaire, called the National College Health Assessment, that students can fill out anonymously if their universities decide to participate.
The findings parallel a similar study done by two of the same lead authors that looked just at Oregon college students. They found the same pattern — that students used it more after recreational stores opened in 2016.
The new study looked at 48 states, seven of them where recreational marijuana was legalized. The study does not name the states.
The over 834,000 survey participants were between 18 and 26 years old and were students at 135 universities in states where recreational marijuana was legal during the study period, and 454 where it was not.