Employed adolescents are more likely to use marijuana than those who don’t work, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The study analyzed data from Washington’s 2010 and 2016 statewide school-based Healthy Youth Survey, which allowed scientists to compare usage before and after marijuana was legalized here. The surveys asked teens whether they had used marijuana within the past 30 days and about their workplaces. Researchers used a “difference and differences” approach, which included looking at the differences between working and not working and those differences over time. “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. … Associations were stronger for youth who worked more hours per week,” according to the study’s abstract. Youths working in formal settings, such as for retail or service businesses, were more likely to use marijuana than non-working teens and teens working informal jobs, like babysitting. The study was led by Janessa Graves, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Washington State University College of Nursing whose research focuses on adolescents and work, specifically injury behaviors. “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.” More research needs to be done, but Graves says it’s possible the working youths who use marijuana could be getting it from their adult coworkers or use because they are exposed to more unhealthy behaviors on the job. “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 article, titled “Employment and Marijuana Use Among Washington State Adolescents Before and After Legalization of Retail Marijuana,” points out that there has been much research to show the importance of social influence on adolescent substance use. It also says that adolescent marijuana use has harmful effects on academic performance, mental health, and later chemical dependence. The study and Graves suggest that marijuana usage by working youths can possibly be deterred using the same strategies used to prevent alcohol and tobacco usage, including increased prices and restricting access. “What we’ve seen since retail market has opened is that access has increased, and costs have gone down,” Graves said. Counteracting that could help deter teens from using marijuana. The quality of the workplace and parental involvement are also key factors to prevention. “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.” In addition to Graves, study authors include Jennifer M. Whitehill, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts Amherst; Mary E. Miller, nurse consultant; Ashley Brooks-Russell, Ph.D., of the University of Colorado; and Susan M. Richardson and Julia A. Dilley, Ph.D., of the Oregon Health Authority.
Kay James is a Spokane-based freelance writer.