New research is out on teen marijuana use and its link to a variety of physical and mental health issues later in life. The key takeaway? Chronic use, started by teenage boys, could not be linked to depression, other mental health issues or asthma later in life.

Researchers from Rutgers University and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center tracked 408 males from their teens into their mid-30s.

The goal was to track any risks associated with the legalization of marijuana in multiple states, and the overall easy access teens have to marijuana. In both cases, it would be illegal. States with legalized marijuana still prohibit the sale to minors, and yes, buying it on the corner is still a crime.

What the study does is alleviate some of the fears medical professionals have on the long-term risk of using marijuana. Even the researchers were surprised by their findings:

“What we found was a little surprising,” said lead researcher Jordan Bechtold, Ph.D., a psychology research fellow at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “There were no differences in any of the mental or physical health outcomes that we measured regardless of the amount or frequency of marijuana used during adolescence.”

Marijuana Study Breakdown

The participants were broken up into four groups: males who did not use or rarely smoked marijuana, early chronic users, participants who smoked only in their teens and those that started later but kept using.

After controlling for cigarette smoking, other illicit drug use, access to health insurance and other lifestyle factors, none of the four groups had links to the above health issues. Even with the group that had a high rate of usage. Early chronic users averaged out at 200 days per year on average when they were 22 years old.

marijuana use and long-term health effects

Researchers were targeting earlier research that pointed to marijuana use and later development of psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions. The study was unable to replicate the results and found no link.

In fact, the team went further and found no link with a wide variety of health issues: cancer, respiratory problems, anxiety, allergies, high blood pressure and headaches.

Marijuana Study Issues

One glaring issue critics will seize upon is the stoppage in the mid-30s. Even the researchers admit it is a major limitation to the study. Ending the study when the men are in their mid-30s “may be too early for decrements in health to emerge. Therefore, continued data collection and longer follow-ups are needed.”

Another issue is the lack of data for women. There’s zero in the study. It only applies to males. That’s not a knock against the researchers, but it’s a gap that needs to be filled in.

In the end, it’s one study. Will it be trumpeted by marijuana activists? Maybe, but the idea here was to study long-term effects of teen use. I doubt many parents will be letting Timmy and his pals smoke ‘em if they got ‘em.

Having one study does not end the debate. You’re not going to be selling marijuana to 14-year-olds. At least, not legally.

What it can do is advance the cause of activists who point out the risks of marijuana is low compared perfectly legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol. It’s like everything in life. Should kids be smoking marijuana? No.

Should adults be lighting up 200 days per year? Not if you want to hold down a job.

Marijuana legalization is a train that has left the station. It’s going to happen. Washington and Colorado are proving its merits.

Getting the law changed on a federal level? If conservative Georgia can inch towards medical legalization, it’s just a matter of time before federal law capitulates to the new reality.

The study was published in the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors (PDF).


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