Teens are choosing to try marijuana before alcohol and tobacco, new research finds, but not because they’re smoking any more pot than before. The trend is because they’re using alcohol and tobacco less, while marijuana use has held steady, says Professor Katherine M. Keyes of Columbia University in a new paper in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
“As we’ve seen the dramatic declines in alcohol and tobacco, we haven’t seen dramatic declines in marijuana, so now every year it’s more and more likely that kids are starting their drug-use careers with marijuana,” said Keyes.
As the Verge points out, the trend has extended over the last few decades at least. “The authors found this by analyzing 40 years of surveys from American high school seniors. For example, in 1995, three-fourths of seniors who used both marijuana and cigarettes had tried cigarettes first. By 2016, only 40 percent had tried cigarettes first. Today, less than half of teens try alcohol and cigarettes before trying cannabis.”
Keyes also pointed out that marijuana legalization has undoubtedly made it easier for teens to use it, even though they’re not supposed to. “It’s not going out on a huge limb to suggest that marijuana is going to be more available at a lower cost to adolescents,” said Keyes. “If you make a substance more available at a lower cost and easier to access, you’re gonna see increases.”
“If anything, what this paper shows is that gateway sequences are malleable and very context-specific,” said Keyes. “When you think about substance use in adolescents, you kind of have to keep your eye on the whole picture and not do it substance by substance. The next product that comes onto the scene and delivers nicotine in a way young people like could create a different sequence.”