As legal marijuana spreads across the country, health experts are raising concerns about the effect the drug has on adolescents. But a new study suggests alcohol should be the real concern.
Researchers from New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research examined data from 7,437 high school seniors. The students had responded to an annual study called Monitoring the Future, which asks about drug and alcohol use, among other topics.
More than 60 percent of the teenagers said they drink alcohol while about half said they smoke marijuana. Each substance has its downsides, but the study suggests the consequences of teen drinking are much worse.
One of the key findings indicates that alcohol leads to more impaired driving than weed. That holds up against other research, which shows drunk driving is 12 times more dangerous than stoned driving.
“The most alarming finding was that alcohol use was highly associated with unsafe driving, especially among frequent drinkers,” said Joseph J. Palamar, PhD and lead author of the study. “Compared to non-drinkers, frequent drinkers were over 13 times more likely to report that their alcohol use has led to unsafe driving. Marijuana users, compared to non-users, were three times more likely to report unsafe driving as a direct result of use.”
The study noted other differences in the impact of pot and booze on kids.
Marijuana, for example, is more likely to strain teens’ relationships with authority figures such as parents and teachers, while alcohol has a greater effect on relationships with peers. Toke and you could lose a job; drink and you could lose your friends.
Cannabis is more likely than alcohol to affect job or school performance, and it’s more likely to zap energy and ambition. Booze, on the other hand, is more likely to lead adolescents to engage in impulsive behaviors they later regret – especially young women.
Overall, marijuana causes fewer problems for teenagers than alcohol. More pot smokers than drinkers reported that they suffer no adverse effects.
Some differences between stoners and boozers break down along racial, ethnic, or other demographic lines. Women and white students experience more negative effects, for example. And the more teens use the greater those effects.
Marijuana is now legal in two states and allowed for medical use in 21 others. Sixteen states have decriminalized the drug.
Concerns about increased teen pot use are already proving to be mostly overblown. Recent research shows there has been no significant increase in adolescent cannabis use since states started reforming their drug laws in the late 1990s.