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November 05, 2007

Initiation Rates

The rates at which American adolescents try (“initiate”) marijuana for the first time have been followed since 1975 when MTF surveys were devised by University of Michigan researchers. Limited to 12 graders at first, the surveys have since been expanded to include 8th and 10th graders and track initiation rates for alcohol and tobacco as well as for several other illegal agents. Although Michigan researchers have continued to conduct the surveys, their funding and analysis have been NIDA responsibilities since 1991 and protocols have changed considerably, making comparisons between different eras somewhat difficult.  Recent data confirms that alcohol is the most frequently tried agent with 12th graders admitting to a 72% “lifetime” initiation rate in 2006. Marijuana and cigarettes had been tried by nearly half, but while the percentage trying cannabis has remained steady or increased,  progressively fewer teens have been trying cigarettes over the past few years.

What wasn't noted in NIDA's text was that no other illegal drug has ever approached marijuana’s popularity with high school students nor do we know what comparable initiation patterns were for the various agents before 1975. Additional light has been shed on both questions  by data provided by medical marijuana applicants in California, all of whom admitted to chronic use when  first seen. When looked at by year of birth, 95.6% had been born during or after the post WW2 baby boom; also their initiation ages placed the great majority in high school or junior high when they first tried pot.  Also,  after the first wave of baby boomers, the age at which adolescents tried pot began falling progressively. Most revealing of all is that the average age of applicants born prior to 1945 had been over 25 at initiation,  and only 13.07% had been younger than 19 .  

 Blending that data with MTF results allows us to trace the the origins of today’s illegal pot market to the late Sixties with great confidence. Thus when the “hippie” movement was in full swing, Nixon was about to become President;  the war on drugs was less than a year away and the Controlled Substances Act had yet to be written. We can now also see clearly how today’s huge illegal market has grown incrementally: after each new cohort of adolescents enters secondary school, about half will try pot and an unknown percentage will become chronic users, either then or later. What isn’t known with certainty is what percentage of teen initiates eventually become “chronic,” or how long that phase lasts, but the fact that thirty percent of Californians seeking  recommendation to use pot medically were between the ages of forty and sixty suggests it's comsiderable.

One of several logical questions  raised by these considerations is how did the hippies discover pot? Another is what made it so popular with adolescents after that happened? Finally; why has cannabis commanded so much greater consumer loyalty than any other "drug of abuse?"

Answers to follow.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at November 5, 2007 02:38 AM