Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council


Latest Trends in Marijuana

What is the scope of marijuana use and abuse in Middlesex County?

In 2010 there were 2.4 million Americans age 12 and older who tried marijuana for the first time; or nearly 6,600 new users daily (NSDUH). Such widespread national use has resulted in a wealth of data about marijuana’s impact on your people and adults, allowing us to make ready comparisons between Middlesex County and other regions.

According to NSDUH, only 7.6% of American youth age 12-17 report “past 30 day use” of marijuana. Slightly more (8.6%) do so in Connecticut. However, YRBS puts the Connecticut high school percentage at 24.10%, significantly higher than the NSDUH figure would allow. This higher figure is compatible with MCSAAC data for Middlesex County high school youth. Students at ten local high schools report recent use of marijuana at 23.57 percent. Middle school children reported past month use of marijuana at about 3.5%. The town data is presented in Graph A.

Graph A. Student past-30-day use of marijuana (%)

(Middle School = blue / High School = red)
Source: Mx. County student surveys, 2010-2012

Town by town, high school students in Middlesex County smoke or ingest marijuana at similar rates, with a low of 19% in one community and a high of 27% in another (Graph A). As we saw with alcohol use, middle school behavior is not predictive of high school behavior. For example, Town D, in which no middle school children reported using marijuana, is home to a high school population in which 25% of the student body uses the drug.

Young adults (18-25 years) are frequent users of marijuana. Although MCSAAC does not have local data for this age group, NSDUH reports a 2011 Connecticut rate of 21.92% young adults using marijuana in the past 30 days. The south central Connecticut rate was somewhat higher in 2010 at nearly 24%, or nearly a quarter of the young adult population.

Marijuana use among 12-17 year olds in Middlesex County has remained steady. In 2007-2009 middle school use averaged 3.5%; it was unchanged in 2010-2012. Similarly, 2007-2009 data for high schools showed 23.9% usage; that number is nearly the same today at 23.6% (“Use,” Graph B).

Graph B. Comparison of marijuana use versus risk perception among middle and high school students
Source: Mx. County surveys, 2007-2009 & 2010-2012

Perception of risk is an excellent indicator for what the future may hold. Several years ago 92.2% of the younger children in middle schools believed marijuana to be risky if used on a regular basis and nearly 73% of high schools students thought the same. Graph B shows how those numbers have dropped even though actual use has (so far) remained constant.

The Consequences of Marijuana Abuse

In late 2012, Dr. Nora D. Volkow wrote, “We are increasingly concerned that regular or daily use of marijuana is robbing too many young people of their potential to achieve and excel … THC, a key ingredient in marijuana, alters the connectivity of the hippocampus, a brain area related to learning and memory. We know from recent research that marijuana use that begins during adolescence can lower IQ and contribute to reduced cognitive abilities during adulthood.” (NIH News, Nov. 2012)

Public school systems in Connecticut report “drug-related suspensions and expulsions” in addition to alcohol-related and tobacco-related incidents. Considering that marijuana is the most commonly used drug reported by students, we can infer that the majority of these “drug-related suspensions” were for marijuana. School data from 2007-2009 is the most recent (Table C).

Law enforcement in Connecticut also reports “drug-related underage arrests” for the same time period. Again, we are left to infer that marijuana plays a large role in these juvenile arrests although narcotics are of course included. Table C displays school discipline and law enforcement by town.

Table C: Drug-related school suspensions

& Drug-related underage arrests 2007-09

Town Arrests Suspensions

Old Saybrook 26 1

Middletown 22 19

Had-Killing 6 8

Tri-Town 6 0

Clinton 4 2

Durham-Mid 3 2

East Hampton 2 0

Portland 2 0

Cromwell 1 2

East Haddam 1 4

Westbrook 1 0

Total 74 38

Source: Connecticut Data Collaborative

Admissions for treatment of marijuana abuse and dependency are captured by “TEDS” (Treatment Episode Data Set, SAMHSA). Fifty-five percent of patients in marijuana treatment first used marijuana by age 14. Fifty-eight percent of patients admitted primarily for marijuana reported abuse of additional substances, usually alcohol. In 2011 in Connecticut, 12.5% of all substance abuse treatment admissions were for marijuana, with about 20% in the 12-20 year age group and 50% in the 21-30 year age group.

According to TEDS, only 15% of marijuana treatment admissions were self-referred (a category that includes individual self-referrals, as well as referrals by friends and family). This percentage was less than half the number of self-referrals for alcohol and cocaine, and about one-quarter the number of self-referrals reported for heroin abuse (56%). How then do marijuana users enter treatment?

Nearly six out of ten people admitted to drug treatment programs for marijuana are referred[1] there by the criminal justice system. In 2008, for example, 57% of those people in treatment with marijuana as their ‘primary substance of abuse’ were referred by criminal justice. By contrast, criminal justice referrals accounted for just 37% of the overall total of drug treatment admissions in 2008 (SAMHSA).

Our Capacity to Address This Issue

Middlesex County public school administrators and law enforcement personnel are concerned about the impact of the decriminalization of marijuana and its approval as a legal medical drug. MCSAAC staff serve on a statewide medical marijuana task force; MCSAAC board members have formed a marijuana education committee. We anticipate a greater need for capacity building among health care professionals to deal with abuse of medical marijuana and its “diversion.”

Because we are thinking ahead and tracking “perception of risk” trends, CNAW members rated our capacity to meet the problem of marijuana abuse at 3.4 out of 5.

[1] “Referred” is the choice given to defendants between treatment or punishment; most choose the former.

393 Main Street, 2nd floor Middletown, CT 06457