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Study examines differences among never, current, and former marijuana-using college students and reasons for quitting

Previous research has documented nearly 20% of young adults aged 18 to 24 years report currently using marijuana. A recent study examined differences among never, current, and former marijuana users in this age group and assessed reasons for quitting among the latter group. Participants were recruited from a racially diverse sample of college students from a separate longitudinal study. The authors randomly selected students to contact via email at selected schools in this sample and sent them three waves of web-based surveys. The overall response rate was 22.9% (N = 3,574/15,607). From respondents to the Wave 2 survey (N = 2,969), 57 participants who identified as current and lifetime marijuana users completed qualitative, semi-structured phone interviews with the research team, in which participants reported their reasons for (1) initiating or not initiating marijuana use; (2) continuing to use marijuana; and (3) quitting or potentially quitting using marijuana in the future. The authors examined transcripts of these interviews to identify primary and secondary themes. Next, the research team conducted a second study that aimed to develop a brief instrument that could be used to assess reasons for quitting marijuana use. The sample consisted of respondents to the Wave 3 survey (N = 2,866), including 607 individuals who reported lifetime marijuana use, but no use in the past four months. These participants rated how true 15 potential reasons for quitting marijuana were for them personally. The list of reasons was developed by a panel of experts prior to the study. Other measures included social factors (marijuana use among parents and close friends), perceptions of marijuana, and other substance use. Survey responses were analyzed using analysis of variance (ANOVA) and Chi-square tests to assess differences in socio-demographics, other substance use, and psychosocial factors among never, current, and former marijuana users. The authors also conducted an exploratory factor analysis of reasons for marijuana cessation items. Results of the qualitative interviews (Study 1) indicated common factors for marijuana use initiation included access to marijuana, influence of friends or siblings, and curiosity. A major theme of motivations for marijuana use was achieving a desired psychological effect, such as stress relief or relaxation. Most participants perceived few or no negative health risks associated with marijuana use. Reported reasons for quitting marijuana included health concerns related to use, social pressure to quit, and potential legal consequences. Results of Study 2 found differences in marijuana use status were found among the never, current, and former users in age (p < 0.001), race (p = 0.002), type of school attended (p < 0.001), use of tobacco products (ps < 0.001), and level of alcohol use (p < 0.001). Correlates of being a former versus current marijuana user included being older (Odds ratio [OR] = 1.20, p < .001), not currently using cigarettes (OR = 0.63, p = .009), and lower levels of alcohol use (OR = 0.95, p < .001). Results of the factor analysis identified undesirable effects of marijuana (i.e., smell) and social/legal reasons for quitting, which was consistent with Study 1 results. Major limitations of this study were its reliance on self-reported measures and limited generalizability of its findings.

Take away: In this sample, self-reported reasons for quitting marijuana use included health concerns, social pressure to quit, and fears about the illegality of this behavior. Being older, using fewer tobacco products, and drinking less alcohol were correlated with being a former marijuana user, compared to a current marijuana user.

Payne, J.B., Getachew, B., Shah, J. & Berg, C.J. (2018). Marijuana use among young adults: Who quits and why? Health Behavior & Policy Review, 5(3), 77-90. doi: 10.14485/HBPR.5.3.8

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