Study: Middle-aged white men marijuana use on the rise

Those who use marijuana more frequently also use prescription pain relievers and alcohol

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC – While marijuana use is on the rise over the past 10 years (2003-2013), white males over 35 are the age group most commonly using marijuana while drinking alcohol or taking non-medically prescribed pain relievers, according to a study conducted by RTI International.

The study, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, and was based on data collected from the National Survey and Drug Use and Health, a computer-assisted survey that is an annual, cross-sectional survey of non-institutionalized individuals over the age of twelve. RTI International researchers compared data from 2003 and 2013, examining those respondents who reported using marijuana in conjunction with either alcohol or non-medically prescribed pain relievers. 

"The key finding is that the increases we are seeing are being observed in groups traditionally at the lowest risk of illicit drug use," said Scott Novak, Ph.D., senior researcher and epidemiologist at RTI and lead author on the study. "The bottom line is that marijuana is becoming more acceptable and therefore in population groups like middle-aged white men, use is increasing because the social stigma is lessening."

Another finding of the study was that the frequency with which people use marijuana and non-medically prescribed prescription pain relievers together, or marijuana and alcohol together, has increased since a little over a decade ago.  The number of people using marijuana and prescription pain relievers together saw a small decrease; however, the frequency with which people used the intoxicants together increased. 

The researchers also observed a 15 percent decrease in the number of people abusing prescription pain relievers during the same period there was a 16 percent increase in people using marijuana.

"The message here is that we see declines in prescription pain reliever abuse in tandem with increases in cannabis use," Novak said. "Among those who are using both, the numbers haven't changed, but the frequency they use both has increased."