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Study: teenage pot use leads to wide variety of outcomes

UVic psychology researcher studied cannabis use among youth for more than a decade
University of Victoria professor of psychology Bonnie Leadbeater says youth develop five different patterns when it comes to marijuana use. (Submitted)

Vancouver Islanders who experiment with pot as teens are slightly more likely to increase their use than cut back as they get older, says one University of Victoria professor of psychology.

But well over half of teens will use only occasionally or not at all.

Bonnie Leadbeater helped co-organize a 10-year study with St. Francis Xavier University, which ran from 2003-2013 and asked 662 local youths between the ages of 12 and 18 about their lives and drug and alcohol use patterns.

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From the research, Leadbeater defined 20 per cent of those people as “increasers,” people who started low and increased rapidly before slowly declining, as opposed to 14 per cent who used heavily in their adolescence and steadily decreased their use over time.

Leadbeater said these are two of five cannabis use patterns uncovered by the study.

She defined 11 per cent as “chronic users” who start early in life and continue to use often.

“These people are less likely to have bachelors degrees, and have more problems with relationships and physical health,” Leadbeater said, adding this pattern did not apply to occasional users, who make up 27 per cent.

“Some people used one or two times a month, and those folks didn’t have a lot of problems.”

"Canadian Youth and Marijuana: What can we expect?" was presented by University of Victoria psychologist Bonnie Leadbeater and lead author Kara Thompson at St. Francis Xavier University. (File contributed/Uvic)

The fifth group were the abstainers, the 29 per cent of youth who avoided use altogether.

“It’s not you either use it or your don’t, there’s a diverse pattern for youth,” Leadbeater said. “For some, it doesn’t seem to cause problem … but there’s evidence that marijuana will make your life worse if you use high levels of it.”

Leadbeater defines high use as 2.5 tokes per day.

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She added that the risk of becoming addicted to marijuana is much higher for youth than adults; 10 per cent of adults will become physically addicted to marijuana, while it jumps up to 17 per cent for youth. However, both of these figures are far below alcohol, tobacco and opioid addiction.

Leadbeater believes that youth are more prepared than ever to understand cannabis and the risks associated with it, based on interviews conducted with students at UVic and St. Francis Xavier.

“They are much more sophisticated in knowing how to use it,” she said. “They now don’t use it to cope, to sleep, or to deal with anxiety and depression. People can make wiser choices at this point.”

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