A new study has found that teens who work are more likely to use marijuana than their non-working peers. The results of the research conducted in the state of Washington were published recently in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
To conduct the study, researchers analyzed data from the Healthy Youth Study collected in 2010 and 2016. The annual survey of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders includes questions about marijuana use over the previous 30 days and the respondent’s employment status and workplace.
The study found that an increase in the use of marijuana by older students coincided with the legalization of cannabis. 2010 was two years before the legalization of cannabis by Washington voters and 2016 was two years after the commencement of legal retail sales of marijuana in the state.
“Between 2010 and 2016, marijuana use decreased significantly among working and non-working eighth and 10th graders. Among working 12th graders, marijuana use increased significantly over time relative to non-working youth,” the researchers wrote.
“Associations were stronger for youth who worked more hours per week,” they added.
The study also found that young people who worked in more formal settings such as service or retail businesses were more likely to smoke marijuana than youth with informal jobs like babysitting. Lead researcher Janessa Graves, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Washington State University College of Nursing who specializes in research about adolescents and employment, said that she was not surprised by the findings, although she didn’t expect there to be such a difference between high school seniors and younger students.
“I wasn’t shocked that working teens have a higher prevalence of marijuana use,” Graves said. “I am a bit surprised how the 12th graders’ patterns differed from the eighth and 10th graders. The 12th graders are acting more like adults.”
Graves noted that parental involvement with their teens and knowledge of their place of employment can have an impact on preventing marijuana use by young people.
“Older teens start acting more like adults, but there’s pretty good science out there that it’s really in their best interest not to use marijuana until they’re older,” Graves said. “Parents should monitor the safety of kids at work. … Have this open discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of working and how to navigate those pressures, not just with cannabis.”
The employment atmosphere and other social factors can also influence whether young people choose to use marijuana, according to Graves.
“One thing I really like to highlight though is that so much of it depends on quality of the workplace,” Graves said. “Some places are really good for adolescents to work. Not all workplaces are created equal.”
The report on the study, entitled “Employment and Marijuana Use Among Washington State Adolescents Before and After Legalization of Retail Marijuana,” noted that previous research has shown that marijuana use by young people can be detrimental to their development and can have a negative effect on academic performance, chemical dependence later in life, and mental health.
The researchers concluded that “states legalizing marijuana may consider implementing interventions to support healthy behaviors among working youth.” Graves suggested that higher prices and other steps to restrict access to marijuana by young people could also help reduce the incidence of use.
“What we’ve seen since retail market has opened is that access has increased, and costs have gone down,” she said.