"marijuana joint" by Torben Hansen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

CDC Study Finds Association Between Marijuana Use and Risky Behaviors in High School Students

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Heather Breeze Clayton, PhD, MPH
Senior Scientist, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia now have policies in place legalizing marijuana for medical or adult use. While the health effects of marijuana use continue to be studied, substantial evidence suggests that a number of health risks – including cognitive and mental health outcomes- are made worse by earlier initiation of marijuana, and heavier use patterns.

Scientific knowledge about the association between marijuana use and other health and risk-taking behavior in youth is still evolving. Accordingly, we sought to use nationally representative data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey to assess what the relationship is between different patterns of marijuana use in youth (more established use vs. non-established use patterns) and a number of risk-taking and violence related behaviors.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: Findings suggest that, regardless of marijuana use pattern, high school aged youth who had used marijuana were significantly more likely to engage in almost all of the risk-taking behaviors we assessed including substance use, injury and violence-related behaviors, and sexual risk-taking behaviors. Compared to those with non-established marijuana use patterns, high school youth who had established patterns of use – defined as more than 100 lifetime uses of marijuana – were significantly more likely to have engaged in risk taking behaviors.

For example, youth with more established use patterns had a higher risk of:
(1) lifetime use of most other substances (including tobacco, alcohol, and misuse of opioids),
(2) some injury or violence-related behaviors (including driving while using marijuana, and thinking about or attempting suicide), and
(3) some sexual risk behaviors. 

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

 Response: Even non-established patterns of marijuana use in high school youth (e.g., <=100 lifetime uses of marijuana) are associated with other risk-taking behaviors; however, risks appear to increase in youth with more established use patterns. In addition to interventions focused on preventing youth initiation of marijuana, clinicians and public health professionals should consider interventions to help youth who may have experimental marijuana use to avoid continued, established use patterns.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Continued monitoring of youth risk behaviors is warranted as marijuana policies, products, and use patterns change. Ongoing research is also warranted to better understand marijuana use in youth, and to identify whether marijuana use might be an early indicator for other risk-taking behaviors. Finally, clinicians in school-based and other clinical settings can screen for marijuana use among youth and engage in interventions both to prevention use in those who have not initiated, and to help youth who have initiated to avoid ongoing, established use patterns that may carry additional risk.

The authors of this study have no disclosures. The findings and conclusions of this study are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Adolescent Marijuana Use and Related Risk Behaviors, National Findings From 2015 to 2017
Schauer, Gillian L. et al.
American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 0, Issue 0


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Last Updated on October 2, 2020 by Marie Benz MD FAAD