Toronto, Canada (CBS SEATTLE) — Students who smoke marijuana – and refrain from smoking tobacco –achieve higher levels of academic success than their “marginalized” cigarette-smoking peers.
A new study published in the Journal of School Health finds that pot-smoking teens outperform students who smoke cigarettes and weed, or those who just smoke cigarettes. The research spanning from 1981-2011 surveyed 39,000 Ontario students in grades 7, 9, and 11, and revealed that the tobacco itself is not to blame for the academic gap, but instead it is the social stigma that now surrounds those who smoke tobacco.
“Social norms have changed and the population of people who use marijuana are more like the general population,” Michael Chaiton, assistant professor in epidemiology and public health policy at the University of Toronto, and lead author of the study, told CTV News.
In regards to academic performance, students who only smoked marijuana were “better relatively” than their tobacco-smoking counterparts, but the social environment is what drives the difference, not a comparison between tobacco and marijuana itself. The study does not suggest smoking pot leads to better grades, but instead in comparison to students who use both cannabis and tobacco, or exclusively tobacco, they outperform their peers.
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Non-users of both tobacco and marijuana outperformed both groups.
The tobacco and marijuana users, or tobacco-only users, are part of a group of teens that is more “vulnerable” to other drugs and reflects a change in social values regarding tobacco smoke. Chaiton explains that more students are simply smoking more pot compared to 30 years ago, and that the “at-risk behaviors” of vandalism and theft are more prevalent in those who dismiss tobacco and abuse programs.
Contemporary tobacco and cannabis co-users are significantly different than past users, according to the researchers. The researchers suggest that the fact tobacco is more stigmatized correlates to fewer “in” crowd students willing to smoke.
A 2012 University of Washington study found that smoking prevalence varies greatly between counties across the United States, with the country’s lowest-income counties maintaining much higher levels of smoking than wealthier areas.
“Counties in the South, particularly in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia, as well as those with large Native American populations, have the highest rates of total cigarette smoking, while counties in Utah and other Western states have the lowest,” write the researchers.
“We find that very high rates of cigarette smoking appear to be a particular problem for poorer communities and those with large populations of Native Americans and Alaska natives, while lower rates of cigarette smoking are found in more affluent counties and counties with large shares of Mexican immigrants.”
Chaiton notes that more programs should focus on educating students about the harmful similarities between marijuana and tobacco use, saying they are “similar drugs in many different ways,” and that “people dramatically underestimate the risks associated with cannabis use, particularly among youth.”
“The population of youth smokers right now is one that is a fairly marginalized population, quite a vulnerable population, so they are at high rates of cannabis use but also of other drugs and other behaviors,” Chaiton says. “So the change in trends is that this is a social phenomenon. This is not that tobacco is causing this, it is something that has changed socially in the role of tobacco in society.”
In 2011, about 92 percent of tobacco users also use marijuana, up from 16 percent in 1991. However, only 25 per cent of marijuana uses also smoke tobacco.
Washington state became one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2012, with the passage of I-502 authorizing the sale of recreational marijuana in the state by retailers licensed through the Liquor Control Board.
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