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New surveillance report provides insight on long term trends in marijuana use and perceptions

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Overall marijuana use levels have increased, but dropped among adolescents

A new surveillance report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a comprehensive overview of historical trends in marijuana use and associated public perceptions and attitudes from 2002 to 2014. Published in today’s Morbidity and Mortality Report’s (MMWR) Surveillance Summary, this surveillance report provides detailed trend data for national level estimates on marijuana use and other measures. Similar historical data for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia can be found on SAMHSA’s website https://www.samhsa.gov/atod/marijuana.

The surveillance report finds that there has been a significant rise in the current use (past month) of marijuana among people aged 12 and older -- from 6.2 percent in 2002 to 8.4 percent in 2014 (an increase of 35 percent). The highest increase reported was among people aged 26 and older with a 65 percent increase from 2002 to 2014. During this same period, the percentage of people aged 12 or older perceiving great risk from smoking marijuana once or twice a week dropped from 51.3 percent in 2002 to 34.3 percent in 2014 (a decrease of 33 percent).

The surveillance report also noted that in 2014, 2.5 million Americans aged 12 or older reported using marijuana for the first time – an average of 7,000 new users each day. This initiation rate represents approximately 1,000 more new users each day compared to 2002. The percentage of past year initiation of marijuana use shifted from a 1.5 percent in 2002 to a 1.7 percent in 2014 (an increase of 13 percent)

Despite the overall rise in marijuana use in the older population (people aged 26 and older), current past month marijuana use rates have been dropping during the last 13 years among people aged 12 to 17 – from 8.2 percent in 2002 to 7.4 percent in 2014 (a decrease of 10 percent). Similarly, the percentage of past year initiation of marijuana use among this age group decreased from 6.5 percent in 2002 to 5.5 percent in 2014. These decreases occurred despite the fact that the perception of great risk from smoking marijuana once or twice a week has also dropped among adolescents – from 51.5 percent in 2002 to 37.4 in 2014 (a decrease of 27 percent).

The surveillance report examines other key behavioral health aspects of the impact of marijuana on our nation, including how Americans got the marijuana they used for the last time, marijuana dependence and abuse, and the perceptions of maximum legal penalties for the possession of marijuana in their state of residence for the first offense possession of an once or less of marijuana for their own use.

“This national surveillance report provides an exceptional analysis of how marijuana use and perceptions have changed over the past decade in American society,” said SAMHSA’s Principal Deputy Administrator Kana Enomoto. “It is important that we use this type of data to enhance public health educational efforts and prevention activities at all levels – especially those geared toward reaching youth. This report also reminds us of the need to inform the public that marijuana use may lead to both addiction and other health consequences if used at early stages of life when the brain is still developing.”

SAMHSA provides a wide range of programs to prevent substance use disorders and to foster treatment. Many of these programs are specifically geared to helping adolescents and young adults. For example, SAMHSA funds the District of Columbia Department of Behavioral Health’s “The Blunt Truth” prevention outreach campaign targeted to adolescents between the ages of 12-17. This initiative provides information on the effects of smoking marijuana to adolescents in the District of Columbia.

SAMHSA also funds states, tribal and territorial programs to improve treatment for adolescents and/or transitional aged youth with substance use disorders and/or co-occurring substance use and mental disorders. These programs broaden state-wide access to evidence-based assessments, treatment models, and recovery services for adolescents (aged 12 to 18) and transitional aged youth (aged18 to 25).

CDC along with a number of other agencies are sponsoring a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report on the health effects of marijuana to help us better understand the public health impact of trends in use and guide research and prevention efforts. The NAS committee will review evidence on a number of health effects, including impact on adolescents, injury, poisonings, and mortality risk. The report will be released at the end of 2016.

CDC is building capacity to conduct routine surveillance of marijuana use across the lifespan and better understand the public health impact of marijuana use through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, Syndromic Surveillance, and other existing surveillance systems.

Today’s SAMHSA report including all state data tables are available at https://www.samhsa.gov/atod/marijuana. This surveillance summary is based on data from SAMHSA’s 2002 to 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). SAMHSA’s NSDUH surveys approximately 68,000 Americans aged 12 and older each year. For more information about SAMHSA and NSDUH, please visit: https://www.samhsa.gov.

The MMWR is published by the CDC. For more information about this report please visit: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/indss_2016.html

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Reporters with questions should send inquiries to media@samhsa.hhs.gov.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to lead public health and service delivery efforts that promote mental health, prevent substance misuse, and provide treatments and supports to foster recovery while ensuring equitable access and better outcomes.

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