September 24th, 2018

Every year, the Federal government sends interviewers to go to people’s homes to ask them in person about their use of substances, including marijuana, alcohol and opioids. The answers – this year from 67,500 interviews – are compiled, analyzed, and published as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). This study, along with Monitoring the Future data described in last week’s blog, provides us with our most reliable information about substance use trends in this country. 

In addition to being broken down by gender and geography, the results are divided by age into teens (13-17), youth (18-25), and adults (26 and older). Some of the more encouraging findings about marijuana, alcohol and opioids are:

  • Marijuana. No increase in teen use despite the liberalization of state laws and no increase in cannabis use disorders despite increased use in youth and adults. This is consistent with past experience that although marijuana can be addictive, it is less so than many other substances, including alcohol.
  • Alcohol. Decreased alcohol use disorders in all age groups, despite increased new use in youth. Teen and adult-use continue a declining trend.
  • Opioids. Decrease in new misusers of prescription opioids and especially of heroin users. This suggests that prevention efforts are being effective.

On the negative side, however, marijuana use by youth and adults – both past month and daily – has been increasing. This increase has been greater with women than with men. What is particularly alarming is the increase in use by pregnant women – including daily use! I have read anecdotal accounts in the media of women using the anti-nausea benefit of marijuana to relieve their morning sickness. Given what we are learning about the possible damaging effect of marijuana on the developing nervous system when used heavily by teenagers, as well as the general recommendation to remain substance-free during pregnancy, I fear that we may be in the process of repeating something analogous to fetal alcohol syndrome.

I hope that these highlights (and lowlights) motivate readers of this blog to dig more deeply into the rich details of NSDUH.


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