Feds’ Survey Finds More People Now OK With Pot

     (CN) — Fewer adults in the United States view marijuana as harmful than ever before, despite the federal government’s decision to keep listing it as a Schedule 1 substance with no known benefits.
     In a study published Wednesday in the journal The Lancet, researchers analyzed data from 596,000 adults aged 18 or older who participated in the U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2002 to 2014.
     Besides an increase in regular marijuana use, adults now have a much more favorable view of it than they did before. Only 33.3 percent of adults perceive great risk of harm from smoking marijuana once or twice a week, down from 50.4 percent in the previous survey.
     Changes in the survey participants’ perception of pot generally began in 2007, according to the researchers.
     “These changes in the prevalence of cannabis use occurred during a period when many U.S. states legalized cannabis for medicinal use, but before four states went on to legalize recreational use after 2014,” Wayne Hall, a professor from the University of Queensland, Australia, writes in a linked comment. Hall was not involved in the study.
     Adults reporting marijuana use climbed from 10.4 percent in 2002 to 13.3 percent in 2014, while the proportion of adults who began using the drug in the previous year increased from 0.7 percent in 2002 to 1.1 percent in 2014.
     Despite the fairly modest uptick in use, the changing view of the substance nationally is interesting given the federal government’s continued refusal to reschedule it.
     On Aug. 11, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced its decision not to reschedule marijuana as medicinal, keeping it in the same category as drugs such as LSD, MDMA and heroin.
     While the feds have resisted changing their stance on the drug, medical marijuana is now legal in 25 states and the District of Columbia.
     “State laws related to marijuana use in the U.S. have changed considerably over the past 20 years,” said study co-author Wilson Compton.
     Compton, a researcher with the National Institute on Drug Abuse — part of the National Institutes of Health — noted that further research is needed to enact appropriate laws related to the drug.
     “Understanding patterns of marijuana use and dependence, and how these have changed over time is essential for policymakers who continue to consider whether and how to modify laws related to marijuana and for health care practitioners who care for patients using marijuana,” he said.
     While the DEA decided that marijuana should remain a Schedule 1 substance, federal officials did relax rules for marijuana research to make it easier for institutions to grow and study the drug.
     Though national perception of the drug is changing, it may not be directly connected to state laws permitting the use of medical marijuana. And the increased use of the drug is not without side effects, as Hall notes.
     “It is probably too soon to draw conclusions about the effects of these legal changes on rates of cannabis use and cannabis-related harms, but it is likely that these policy changes will increase the prevalence and frequency of cannabis use and, potentially, cannabis use disorders in the longer term,” he writes.
     People who use marijuana are more likely to develop dependence if they are male, younger, have depression, are not employed full-time, have low education, and use tobacco or other substances.

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