Marijuana: Rite of Passage or Russian Roulette? 2004 | CASAColumbia

Non-Medical Marijuana II: Rite of Passage or Russian Roulette?

Non-Medical Marijuana II: Rite of Passage or Russian Roulette?

Published: April 2004

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This is the second in a series of CASAColumbia papers exploring marijuana use and its consequences. This report explores research on the dangers of non-medical marijuana use and cautions against complacency about use of the drug. The report also details the risks to teens of marijuana use and explores marijuana as a gateway drug.


This CASAColumbia white paper involved a comprehensive review and synthesis of information from relevant publications and national data sets related to the topic.


The marijuana available to today’s children is far more potent than what many of their parents smoked and, as is the case with nicotine cigarettes, we have accumulated considerable additional evidence of the dangers of its use. While marijuana use was leveling off, the drug’s increased potency appeared to be sending more teens into treatment facilities and emergency rooms. This paper found that from 1992 to 2001, the proportion of children and teenagers in treatment for marijuana addiction jumped 142%. It also found that from 1999 to 2002, emergency room admissions among 12-to-17-year-olds where marijuana was implicated jumped 48%. Evidence of a connection between the use of marijuana and the later use of other illegal drugs continued to accumulate, as did evidence of the adverse effects of marijuana on the brain, heart and lungs.

Other notable findings included:

  • Next to alcohol and tobacco, marijuana was the drug of choice for American teens, and it was by far the most widely used illegal drug
  • About 6 times as many teens had tried marijuana as had tried ecstasy or cocaine
  • Among youths ages 12 to 17 who had ever tried marijuana, the mean age of initiation was 13.5
  • The mean age of initiation among adults ages 18 to 25 who had ever tried marijuana was 16


Teens, parents, teachers, communities and policymakers must be made aware of the most current information about marijuana use and its consequences. Research on the risks and dangers of using marijuana is ongoing, and while we do not yet fully understand all of the implications of marijuana use and its effects on organ systems and behavior, we do know that the more researchers study the drug and the effects of its use, the clearer it becomes that smoking marijuana is a dangerous game of Russian roulette, not a harmless rite of passage.

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