Gender and race may play a role in determining how much high school students experiment with marijuana.
A new study by Yale School of Medicine researchers has found that Caucasian female adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17 are more likely to use marijuana than African-American or Asian girls, although more African-American and Hispanic boys of the same age use marijuana than other ethnicities. The study, published in the March edition of the Journal of Addiction Medicine, also found that teenage girls transition faster from initial marijuana use to regular use than adolescent boys. The researchers said they hope that the study’s findings can help public health officials develop early intervention programs for adolescent marijuana use that takes gender into account.
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According to the report, little is known about gender differences in adolescent marijuana use before this study, which aims to present a profile of the personal characteristics that determine marijuana use during adolescence.
“I was a little surprised at how strongly tobacco and marijuana use went together,” said first author Ty Schepis, explaining that a teenager’s recent use of tobacco was a stronger indicator of previous marijuana use than any other risky behaviors, including marijuana use, binge alcohol drinking and gambling.
The study builds on research from a statewide survey of adolescent risk behavior participation at Connecticut high schools that was led by Yale faculty in 2008. A former Yale postdoctoral fellow Schepis, who led the study, said that the large survey has already led to more than five published manuscripts.
Associate research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine Dana Cavallo, who is another of the study’s authors, said some of the results were particularly surprising.
For both genders, participation in extracurricular activities is associated with a lower rate of marijuana use. But the study showed that this participation appears to be connected to reduced female marijuana use more so than that of male teenagers, with extracurriculars making girls nearly 50 percent less likely to use marijuana than those not participating, whereas boys were just over 25 percent less likely.
Though 24.5 percent of all adolescents surveyed said they had used marijuana within the last 30 days, 40 percent said they had used marijuana at least once during their lifetime. Boys consistently reported higher rates of use than their female counterparts.
But some results may be less surprising: teens that smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol or carried weapons were more likely to use marijuana. Younger students and those with better grades were also less likely to report using marijuana.
One Yale student said the study has wider reaching implications for local New Haven schools.
“We can tailor our curriculum based on the findings for active preventive strategy,” said Nicole Ivey ’14, a Community Health Educator who works on a weekly basis with New Haven school children on health issues.
The 2008 survey was conducted in conjunction with the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.