New research from a team of American scientists indicates that gender and certain other demographic factors strongly influence the average person’s tendency to view regular marijuana/cannabis use as dangerous or risky.
Despite its increasingly prominent standing as a socially acceptable pursuit, marijuana is widely recognized by doctors and researchers for its ability to trigger a number of serious health problems, including cases of abuse/addiction. In a study published in February 2015 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from two U.S. universities assessed the impact that gender and a range of additional demographic factors (age, income level, etc.) have on the odds that any given person will view regular marijuana/cannabis intake as a significant health risk.
Health Effects of Marijuana/Cannabis
Any person who consumes marijuana or other forms of cannabis can develop cannabis use disorder, a form of diagnosable drug abuse/addiction officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. The onset of this disorder is a possibility because repeated exposure to the main cannabis ingredient, THC, can produce lasting and dysfunctional alterations in the brain’s balance of pleasure-producing chemicals. As a rule, the highest risks for cannabis use disorder (an exposure rate of 25 percent to 50 percent) appear in daily or near-daily cannabis consumers; the second-highest risks (an exposure rate of roughly 17 percent) appear in teenagers who use the drug even occasionally.
In addition to experiencing abuse/addiction-related issues, a teenager who regularly consumes marijuana/cannabis can disrupt the normal course of brain development (which doesn’t end until a person reaches his or her mid-20s). In some cases, heavy teen users of the drug may permanently lose some of their ability to think critically or use other higher-level mental functions. Heavy adult or teen users of marijuana/cannabis also have increased chances of developing symptoms of a highly destabilizing mental state called psychosis, which includes hallucinations and delusional thoughts/beliefs. Psychosis risks and risks for marijuana-related emergency hospitalization (a rising trend) may be tied to a steep and widespread increase in cannabis potency over the last two-plus decades.
Demographics of Marijuana Use
In the U.S., a federal agency called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) keeps detailed demographic records of the people who consume marijuana in any given year. The most recent fully available statistics from SAMHSA cover 2013. In that year, roughly 19.8 million Americans over the age of 11 used marijuana in a statistically representative month. In terms of age, marijuana use is highest among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. In terms of gender, men maintain a 9.7 percent rate of marijuana intake, while women maintain a rate of just 5.6 percent. In terms of racial/ethnic background, peak rates of use occur among people with mixed racial/ethnic ancestry, Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders, and American Indians/Alaska Natives. Adults who have not graduated from high school use marijuana more often than adults who have completed high school or attended/completed college in the past. People still enrolled in college maintain an unusually high rate of marijuana consumption.
Demographics and Perceived Marijuana Risk
In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from Columbia University and two branches of Johns Hopkins University used a decade of data from the SAMHSA project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to help determine how demographic factors influence the perceived danger of regular marijuana consumption. This data covered the years 2002-2012 and included information from 614,579 people.
After analyzing the survey data, the researchers concluded that gender is a major influence on the perceived risk of regular marijuana intake (consumption of the drug at least once or twice weekly). While 47 percent of women viewed such use as risky in 2012, little more than half as many men viewed regular marijuana use as risky in the same year. Other demographic groups most likely to perceive significant risk in regular marijuana intake include people with non-Caucasian racial/ethnic ancestry, people over the age of 49 and people who live in families with an income ranging from $20,000 a year to $49,999 a year. Conversely, demographic groups least likely to view regular marijuana use as dangerous include preteens, teenagers and young adults between the ages of 12 and 25; people who have at least graduated from high school, people who have a recent personal history of marijuana use; and people who live in families with an income in excess of $74,999 a year.