The White House

Office of the National Drug Control Policy

Californians Seeking Treatment for Marijuana at Higher Rates

Almost Half of Californians Seeking Drug Treatment Who Cite Marijuana as their Primary Substance of Abuse Are Teens; Two-Thirds Began Using Marijuana at age 14 or Younger

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Office of National Drug Policy (ONDCP), released data revealing that the percentage of Californians voluntarily seeking drug treatment for marijuana as their primary drug of abuse is higher than the rest of the United States.

According to data tabulated by ONDCP from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 2008 Treatment Episode Data Set, over half - 51 percent - of primary treatment admissions for marijuana in California were referred through sources other than the criminal justice system. This compares to 42 percent for the rest of the United States. These sources include individual referrals, schools, substance abuse and health care providers, employers, or other community referrals.

Additionally, 47 percent of those receiving drug treatment for marijuana as their primary drug of abuse in California were under the age of 18. This compares to 28 percent of those receiving treatment for marijuana as their primary drug of abuse for the rest of the United States. Additionally, 65 percent of Californians who received treatment for marijuana began using the drug at age 14 or younger. This compares to 55 percent for the rest of the United States.

“Discussions of so-called ‘medical’ marijuana, marijuana legalization, and downplaying marijuana’s harms play a major role in sending the wrong message to young people about the health consequences of marijuana use.” said Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy. “At a time when drug use in America is on the rise, we must focus our efforts on actions that will protect young people from the harms and consequences of illegal drug use, instead of supporting initiatives that will make our national drug problem – and the costs associate with it – worse.”

Last week, Director Kerlikowske alerted parents to the heightened dangers of marijuana use that has risen significantly, with kids starting to use the drug at younger ages. According to recently released data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), released by SAMHSA, there were 2.4 million new past-year users of marijuana in 2009 and the average age of initiation – first-time use of the drug − dropped from 17.8 in 2008 to 17.0 in 2009. The survey also reported a nine percent increase (from 6.7% to 7.3%) of current users of marijuana age 12 to 17 between 2008 and 2009.

Marijuana use is associated with dependence, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, cognitive impairment, and emergency room admissions. The average potency of tested marijuana from Federal seizures more than doubled from 1998 to 2008. Although using drugs at any age can lead to addiction, research shows the earlier a person begins to use drugs, the more likely they are to progress to more serious abuse and addiction – even later in life, after use has decreased, reflecting the harmful, long-lasting effects drugs can have on the developing brain. Research suggests the human brain is still maturing during the adolescent years, with significant changes continuing into the early 20s.