Increasing numbers of young Americans are choosing marijuana over cigarettes or alcohol as their first drug of choice, according to new research published in the journal Prevention Science.
Researchers from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) examined nationally representative survey data from more than 275,000 people aged between 12 and 21. The study is based on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which was conducted between 2004 and 2014 and involved questions related to the use of marijuana, tobacco, alcohol as well as other illegal drugs.
The researchers found that around 8 percent of respondents in 2014 reported that marijuana was the first drug they ever used—almost double the figure of 4.8 percent reported in 2004. This rise could be related to a declining rate of young smokers (21 percent in 2004 to 9 percent in 2014) or the larger number of young people abstaining from substance use altogether (36 percent to 46 percent in 2014), according to the researchers.
The trend is particularly noticeable in specific ethnic groups. Researchers found that young people who used marijuana as their first drug were more likely to be male and come from black, Native American, Hispanic or multiracial backgrounds.