Has Science Found The Optimal Age To Start Smoking Weed?

A new study may have determined the optimal minimum legal age for cannabis, balancing the development of the adolescent brain as well as minimising the prevalence of the black market.

Over the past decade, cannabis legalisation has proliferated at an unprecedented rate; Australia's Capital Territory legalised the plant for recreational consumption, Canada federally legalized cannabis, 11 U.S. states have legalized recreational cannabis, and several other countries and U.S. states look poised to follow suit by the end of the year.

At the current trajectory, it doesn't look like cannabis legalisation is slowing anytime soon, which makes it imperative to fully understand the ramifications that cannabis has on the human body – particularly for adolescents. Due to the general illegality of the plant, research has largely been stifled when it comes to cannabis, and this has kept the effects of consuming the plant rather opaque.

Though even if cannabis has undesirable effects upon the developing brain, simply making the plant illegal may not be the solution; as we've seen with the War on Drugs, people ill continue to consume drugs regardless of whether they're legal or not. This means that governments face somewhat of a balancing act in determining the ideal minimum legal age (MLA) of cannabis consumption, while ensuring you aren't simply enticing young people to turn to the black market for their weed.

Though researchers at BMC Public Health carried out a study which they believe has found the ideal MLA for cannabis consumption, weighing out all of these variables.

The population-based cross-sectional study used data from Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Surveys (CTUMS) carried out between 2004 and 2012 and its newer iteration, the biennial Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey (CTADS) conducted in 2013 and 2015. The CTUMS annually interviews close to 20,000 individuals aged 15 years and older.

The study finds that while using cannabis prior to 21 can lead to lower educational attainment, "later life outcomes associated with first using cannabis at age 19 are better than those associated with first using it at age 18 but not significantly different from those first using between 21 and 25."

In essence, very little changes in terms of the undesirable outcomes of smoking cannabis at either age 19 or 21, though the latter simply allows for a black market to attract people below the MLA. In this respect, states and countries considering the legalization of cannabis may be wise in setting the legal age at 19.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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