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In a survey of young adults aged 18 to 25, more than half said they also use marijuana. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), say that's a big increase from the 35 percent of young adults that, in prior research, had admitted to using both marijuana and tobacco within the past month.
One expert said the new findings ring true.
"The data presented are far more consistent with what I hear simply by speaking with thousands of students of middle and high school age," noted Stephen Dewey, an addiction researcher and director of the Laboratory for Behavioral and Molecular Neuroimaging at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y. "The importance of getting accurate data like these cannot be stressed enough, as treatment programs and the financial support required for them are often guided by studies that demonstrate both prevalence and risk."
According to the researchers, the fact that their study was conducted online, primarily through Facebook, and participants could remain anonymous, may have resulted in a more accurate picture of tobacco and marijuana use.
"We were curious whether rates would be different in our study where we reached out through social media and the Web," study author Danielle Ramo, a postdoctoral scholar in the UCSF Department of Psychiatry, said in a university news release. "And rates were much higher, which shows the problem might be larger than we realize."
The study, published April 18 in Addiction Science and Clinical Practice, was conducted in two phases. First, researchers questioned participants on their smoking habit. In the second stage, 3,500 participants were asked to anonymously reveal if they had used marijuana in the past 30 days.
The study found that of the 68 percent of respondents who smoked cigarettes every day, 53 percent said they had also used marijuana within the past month. Both tobacco and marijuana use was highest among whites, those from the Northeast, those living in rural areas and young adults who were not students, the researchers noted.
"Residence in a medical marijuana state was unrelated to the prevalence of marijuana use as well as the co-use of marijuana and tobacco in this young adult sample," study senior author Judith Prochaska, an associate professor of psychiatry at UCSF, said in the news release. "The prevalence of marijuana use also did not differ by respondents' age, income or gender."
Another expert said he wasn't surprised by the findings.
"Those who suffer from mental health and substance abuse problems have an extremely high rate of nicotine dependence," said Bruce Goldman, director of Substance Abuse Services at The Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, NY. "It stands to reason that those seeking help to quit smoking also would have high rates of substance abuse including cannabis."
The study's authors argued that programs to help young adults quit smoking should also take into account the effects of marijuana use. They said the next step in their research is to bring counseling and other therapies to help people quit to Facebook.
"Adapting the social media aspect into intervention and incorporating the social environment are new ways to approach finding the most effective means for treatment," Prochaska concluded.
"This format allows them to remain anonymous as much as they want, but have ease to access interventions when they are at the age when they are less likely to enter a treatment center, research lab or clinic," added Ramo.
Goldman agreed. "Individuals might be more comfortable seeking assistance via the web than presenting in person to a local treatment center," he reasoned.
-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
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