Cannabis use among children in US surged by over 240% since 2000, study finds

Cannabise use among adolescents in the US has shot up by over 240 per cent since 2000, according to a new study that pointed out a “decline” in alcohol abuse over this period.

The research, published recently in the journal Clinical Toxicology, shed more light on the recent trends of intentional substance misuse and abuse among school-aged children and adolescents in the US.

In the study, scientists from Oregon Health and Science University in the US tracked data on intentional misuse and abuse reported to the National Poison Data System (NPDS) until 2020.

They found over 338,000 instances of intentional abuse or misuse among American children aged 6-18, of which 32 per cent resulted in “worse than minor clinical outcomes”.

“These findings highlight an ongoing concern about the impact of rapidly evolving cannabis legalisation on this vulnerable population,” Adrienne Hughes, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement.

The findings also reveal a change in patterns of substance abuse in the US over time.

Citing an example, researchers said the largest number of abuse cases among children in 2000 involved alcohol exposure, which has since “declined”.

In contrast, cannabis use has remained relatively stable from 2000-09, steadily rising from 2011, with a more dramatic rise in cases from 2017-20.

Dextromethorphan, another substance which was the most reported over the study period, peaked in 2006 and has since decreased in use.

“Ethanol abuse cases exceeded the number of marijuana cases every year from 2000 until 2013. Since 2014, marijuana exposure cases have exceeded ethanol cases every year, and by a greater amount each year than the prior,” Dr Hughes said.

Edible form of cannabis showed the highest average monthly increase compared to all other forms, suggesting adolescents have moved away from smoking cannabis to alternative modes of consumption.

“These edible and vaping products are often marketed in ways that are attractive to young people, and they are considered more discrete and convenient,” Dr Hughes said.

But compared to smoking cannabis, which usually results in an immediate high, intoxication from edible forms can take several hours.

This may lead to some children to consume greater amounts and experience unexpected and unpredictable highs.

The surge in child cannabis use found in the study since 2017 also coincides with a wave of decriminalisation legislation in the US.

Cannabis is currently legal for recreational use only for adults in 19 states and for medical use in 36 states and not for children.

“Our study describes an upward trend in marijuana abuse exposures among youth, especially those involving edible products,” Dr Hughes added.

Citing a limitation of the study, researchers said the exposure cases were classified either as abuse or misuse.

“It is possible that additional misuse or abuse cases were classified otherwise and thus were missed,” they say.