Early Marijuana Use
Linked to Adult Dependence
SAMHSA News FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 28,
A new federal report released today concludes the younger
children are when they first use marijuana, the more likely they are
to use cocaine and heroin and become dependent on drugs as adults.
The report, "Initiation of Marijuana Use: Trends, Patterns and
Implications," found that 62 percent of adults age 26 or older who
initiated marijuana before they were 15 years old reported that they
had used cocaine in their lifetime. More than 9 percent reported
they had used heroin and 53.9 percent reported non-medical use of
psychotherapeutics. This compares to a 0.6 percent rate of lifetime
use of cocaine, a 0.1 percent rate of lifetime use of heroin and a
5.1 percent rate of lifetime non medical use of psychotherapeutics
for those who never used marijuana. Increases in the likelihood of
cocaine and heroin use and drug dependence are also apparent for
those who initiate use of marijuana at any later age.
The report is based on the 1999 and 2000 National Household
Surveys on Drug Abuse and was released today in Miami by Drug Czar
John Walters and Charles G. Curie, Administrator of the Substance
Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA is
part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The report found that 18 percent of people age 26 and older who
began using marijuana before age 15, met the criteria for either
dependence or abuse of alcohol or illicit drugs, compared to 2.1
percent of adults who never used marijuana. Among past year users of
marijuana who had first used marijuana before age 15, 40 percent met
the criteria for either dependence or abuse of alcohol or illicit
White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director John
Walters stated, "every day in this country, more than 3,000 people -
most of them under the age of 18 - use marijuana for the first time.
Their early marijuana use exposes them to risks of drug
dependencies, long-term physical and cognitive consequences, and
social problems. We must keep our young people out of harm's way by
educating them on the dangers of marijuana use, preventing
initiation of the drug, and getting them help if they have already
starting using it."
Overall, the report found an estimated 2.0 million Americans aged
12 or older indicated they used marijuana for the first time in
1999. This was fewer than the 2.5 million new users in 1998, but
still above the number, 1.4 million new users, found in 1989 and
SAMHSA Administrator Curie said, "among recent initiates of
marijuana nearly three quarters had first used between the ages of
13 and 18. More than a quarter initiated before age 15. These
findings are of grave concern because studies show smoking marijuana
leads to changes in the
brain similar to those caused by cocaine, heroin and alcohol.
marijuana abuse impairs the ability of young people to retain
information during their peak learning years when their brains are
Prior use of alcohol or cigarettes was highly correlated with
becoming a new marijuana user. Among persons aged 12 to 25 who had
never used marijuana, those who had smoked cigarettes were an
estimated 6 times more likely than nonsmokers to initiate marijuana
use within 1 year. Alcohol users were an estimated 7 to 9 times more
likely than nonusers to start using marijuana within a year. Daily
cigarette smoking was associated with a twofold increase in risk for
On average during 1998 and 1999 there were 3,197 male marijuana
initiates and 2,989 female initiates per day. The average number of
marijuana initiates per day during 1998 and 1999 was highest in June
and July. For females, the months with the highest rates of
initiation were January and July. Among males, the number of daily
initiates increased to approximately 4,300 in June and July. Among
females, the estimated initiates per day rose to 3,625 in July and
3,519 in January.
The average annual incidence rates varied across different States
and age groups. Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire,
and Vermont were ranked in the top 10 for the overall age group
(ages 12 or older), the youth age group (ages 12 to 17), and the
young adult age group (ages 18 to 25).
The 10 states with the highest overall rates of recent new
marijuana users were Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts,
Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Vermont and
Wisconsin. The nine states with the highest rates of recent new
marijuana users aged 12-17 were Arizona, Colorado, Delaware,
Hawaii,, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico and
Several states were high in more than one age category. Colorado,
Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont ranked in the
top10 in three age categories, the overall age group (ages 12 or
older), the youth age group (ages 12-17), and the young adult age
group (ages 18-25). New Mexico ranked high for both the overall and
youth age groups. Minnesota had a high rate for both the overall and
young adult age groups.
States with the lowest overall rates of recent new marijuana
users include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, New
Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The
lowest rates of recent marijuana initiates aged 12 to 17 were in
Alabama, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
Louisiana had a low rate in three categories, recent new users
for the overall rate of new marijuana users, youth and young adult
age groups. Texas and Utah had a low rate in two categories, recent
initiation among youth, and young adults.
SAMHSA, a public health agency within the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, is the lead federal agency for improving
the quality and availability of substance abuse prevention,
addiction treatment and mental health services in the United States.
Information on SAMHSA's programs is available on the Internet at
News from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services
Press Contact: Leah Young Phone: (301) 443-8956
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (http://www.samhsa.gov/),
an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.