A significant shift from using alcohol to cannabis is taking place among American adolescents. Adolescent alcohol abuse has decreased since 2000, while cannabis use has increased 245% over the same period. The review, published in the journal Clinical Toxicology, tracked intentional instances of abuse and misuse reported to the National Poison Data System (NPDS). Experts analyzing the data suspect edibles are a key factor in this increase.
Cannabis use among youths has risen dramatically since 2017, when decriminalization and legislation became more widespread. Currently, adult recreational use is legal in 19 states, and 36 states have active medical cannabis programs.
The review found 338,000 instances of intentional abuse or misuse of young people aged 6-18. More than 80% of all reported exposure cases occurred in young people aged 13 to 18, with most ingestions occurring in male youth (58.3%). 2000 saw the most significant number of alcohol abuse cases. Cannabis exposure cases remained relatively stable from 2000 to 2009, but incident rates increased after 2011 and accelerated from 2017 to 2020.
The study suggests that adolescents are increasingly choosing vapes, tinctures, and edibles over smoking cannabis. These products can be used in more discrete and convenient ways, making detection by parents, teachers, and authorities more difficult.
Consumption of all cannabis products increased, but edibles demonstrated the highest average monthly increase of product forms. A growing problem associated with edibles is the unanticipated duration and effect of a THC dose that is too high. Some youth may consume too many edibles at once, not realizing the effects intensify over time, peak after thirty or more minutes, and last several hours. According to study author Dr Adrienne Hughes, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, “Compared to smoking cannabis, which typically results in an immediate high, intoxication from edible forms of marijuana usually takes several hours, which may lead some individuals to consume greater amounts and experience unexpected and unpredictable highs.” Individuals can have a range of mild to extreme reactions due to misuse. Exceeding the recommended dosage and high potency cannabis poses a threat to teens who may experience mental symptoms such as paranoia and physical symptoms such as racing pulse and nausea.