1 In 6 Kids Get “Addicted” To Marijuana (If Weekend Toking Is “Addiction”)
One of Kevin Sabet’s favorite WATC (What About The Children?!?) scare lines is the notion that teens who experiment with marijuana are in danger of lifelong drug addiction. On CNN’s opinion page, Sabet invoked this dubious statistic:
Despite denials by special interest groups and marijuana businesses, the drug’s addictiveness is not debatable: 1 in 6 kids who ever try marijuana will become addicted to the drug, according to the National Institutes of Health.
1 in 6 kids – 16 2/3% – who try marijuana will become “addicted” to marijuana? That seems a bit steep, considering the Gallup Poll in 2013 found 7% of Americans currently smoke marijuana. They can’t all be “addicts”.
The link Kevin Sabet provides as foundation for his 1 in 6 claim leads us to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) December 2012 press release on the latest National Survey on Drug Use & Health (NSDUH) data. But the 1 in 6 number doesn’t come from the data, but rather a quote by the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Dr. Nora Volkow:
“We should also point out that marijuana use that begins in adolescence increases the risk they will become addicted to the drug,” said Volkow. “The risk of addiction goes from about 1 in 11 overall to about 1 in 6 for those who start using in their teens, and even higher among daily smokers.”
Since Volkow and Sabet seem to think NSDUH numbers show 1 in 6 kids who try marijuana become “addicted”, let’s just take a look (seriously – these are public records with a great data table interface you can use to follow along, we’ll provide the instructions.)
First, let’s find out how many people have ever tried marijuana. NSDUH provides a variable MRJFLAG that tells us that. There is also CATAG2 which categorizes the responses by age:
Thus, we find that 110 million people aged 12 and older have tried marijuana – about 4 million kids aged 12-17 and about 106 million adults of voting age. If 1 in 6 of those 4 million are becoming “addicted”, there ought to be about 703,000 teenage marijuana “addicts”.
Yet when we run another variable, IRMJFM, it tells us a monthly marijuana consumer’s use in days per month.
Of the kids 12-17 who are smoking pot monthly, only 171,000 are doing it every day and only 427,000 are doing it every other day or more. You have to include all kids smoking pot 10 days a month or more to reach 703,000 “addicts”.
Similarly, to reach Volkow’s claim that 1 in 11 overall become “addicted”, you’d have to show there are about 10 million “addicts” of the 110 million people who have tried marijuana. You can’t tally up that 10 million without including all adults who smoke marijuana 10 days a month or more.
If using a drug once every three days counts as “addiction”, we have far more alcoholics in this country than we’re counting!
But calculating the “addiction” this way doesn’t quite paint the whole picture. We’ve looked at teens who’ve tried pot vs. teens who’ve become “addicted”. We’ve looked at everone who’s tried pot vs. everyone who’s become “addicted”. The real question – and the heart of Sabet’s scare about this “addiction” – is how many adults who tried pot as teens are still “addicted”?
There is another variable called IRMJAGE that tells the age at which a person first tried marijuana, ranging from age 2 (really?!?) to age 69. We can use that as a filter on the MRJFLAG variable to get only the people who tried pot as kids:
Thus we find there are almost 64 million who tried pot as teenagers, with that 4 million who are still teenagers and 60 million who are voting age adults. From this group, we need to show 10.6 million “addicts” and to get that figure, we need to include everyone who uses marijuana 8 days a month or more.
In other words, 1 in 6 kids who try marijuana get “addicted” if you count an adult smoking pot on the weekend as “addiction”.