TIME Drugs

Americans Are Smoking More Pot

Denver Marijuana Celebration
With the Colorado state capitol building visible in the background, partygoers dance and smoke pot on the first of two days at the annual 4/20 Marijuana Festival in Denver, April 19, 2014. Brennan Linsley—AP

The World Drug Report found that as laws in the U.S. have relaxed toward marijuana, prices for the herb have dropped, far more people have begun to partake, and more people have landed in the hospital due to "cannabis-related treatment admissions"

Americans are increasingly consuming marijuana but also seeking treatment for problems caused by their use of the drug, according to a new report.

The World Drug Report was released Thursday against the backdrop of a country whose states are increasingly liberalizing legal access to marijuana for both recreational and medical purposes. The report suggests that as laws have relaxed toward the herb, more people have begun to use it — from 2008 to 2012, marijuana use among “people 12 years and older” increased almost 2 percentage points, from 10.3 to 12.1.

Washington State and Colorado recently legalized pot for recreational use, numerous states allow it for medical use, and residents in other states — New York, Alaska and Kentucky, among others — are working to legalize various forms of marijuana use, and legalization has become a staple in youth discourse and liberal politics.

The report cautions that the relationship between legalization and use remains a correlation only, not necessarily a cause, particularly since the information included in the study only extends through 2012, which is when the recreational legalizations were just taking hold in Washington and Colorado. “It will take years of careful monitoring to understand the broader effects of those novel regulatory frameworks in order to inform future policy decisions,” the report states.

Experts cited in the report predict that legalization and retail integration of marijuana will reduce production costs, thereby boosting consumption. For each 10% drop in price — the average price of marijuana fell 12% between 2009 and 2012 — there will be an estimated 3% increase in users.

There may also be an insidious side to the flowering embrace of marijuana as extracurricular pleasure. The study suggests that lower prices, greater availability and a shift in perception on how dangerous the drug can be may lead to addiction issues. Data shows a significant uptick in marijuana-related emergency-room visits over the past several years — up 59% between 2006 and 2012 — along with a 14% increase in “cannabis-related treatment admissions.”

Price of Marijuana in the US
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2014

Globally, however, marijuana use has fallen. Though Uruguay became the first country to legalize growing, selling and using marijuana in December, the worldwide decline reflects lower estimates that were reported by several countries in Western and Central Europe.

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