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Majority of Greater Victoria youth likely to be steady marijuana users: UVic study

UVic psychology researcher studied cannabis use among youth in Greater Victoria for more than a decade
University of Victoria professor of psychology Bonnie Leadbeater says youth develop five different patterns when it comes to marijuana use. (Submitted)

Youth in Victoria are likely to develop one of five cannabis use patterns, says one University of Victoria professor of psychology.

Bonnie Leadbeater helped co-organize a 10-year study with St. Francis Xavier University, which ran from 2003-2013 and asked 662 local youths between the ages of 12 and 18 about their lives and drug and alcohol use patterns.

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From the research, Leadbeater found a high number of people who started using marijuana as a youth remained frequent users a decade later.

Leadbeater categorized 20 per cent of these people as “increasers,” people who started low and increased rapidly before slowly declining, and another 11 per cent as “chronic users” who start early in life and continue to use often.

“These people are less likely to have bachelors degrees, and have more problems with relationships and physical health,” Leadbeater said, adding this pattern did not apply to occasional users, who make up 27 per cent. “Some people used one or two times a month, and those folks didn’t have a lot of problems.”

"Canadian Youth and Marijuana: What can we expect?" was presented by University of Victoria psychologist Bonnie Leadbeater and lead author Kara Thompson at St. Francis Xavier University. (File contributed/Uvic)

Research also found 29 per cent of youth abstained from use altogether, and 14 per cent used heavily in their adolescence and steadily decreased their use over time.

“It’s not you either use it or your don’t, there’s a diverse pattern for youth,” Leadbeater said. “For some, it doesn’t seem to cause problem … but there’s evidence that marijuana will make your life worse if you use high levels of it.”

Leadbeater defines high use as 2.5 tokes per day.

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She added that the risk of becoming addicted to marijuana is much higher for youth than adults; 10 per cent of adults will become physically addicted to marijuana, while it jumps up to 17 per cent for youth. However, both of these figures are far below alcohol, tobacco and opioid addiction.

Leadbeater believes that youth are more prepared than ever to understand cannabis and the risks associated with it, based on interviews conducted with students at UVic and St. Francis Xavier.

“They are much more sophisticated in knowing how to use it,” she said. “They now don’t use it to cope, to sleep, or to deal with anxiety and depression. People can make wiser choices at this point.”

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