Marijuana often has been referred to as a “gateway drug.” This is because it is seen as an open door to other risky behavior, such as alcohol consumption, deviant behavior, and sexual activity. In fact, many young people in the juvenile justice system have had experience with marijuana. Because of this perceived link between marijuana use and risk taking, understanding the impact of use on future behavior could help in the creation and implementation of interventions. Youths who exhibit highly risky behavior patterns are more likely to have academic, social, and health problems than their less unruly peers. Sexual risk taking can lead to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Additionally, marijuana use has been shown to increase internalizing behaviors such as depression and anxiety. Curbing these types of outcomes may be more effective if young people are identified and targeted early based on risk factors such as marijuana use.
Angela D. Bryan of the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado recently led a study that assessed how marijuana use influenced risk taking among a sample of 728 teens from the juvenile justice system. Bryan evaluated the sexual behaviors, condom use, and marijuana use of the participants over two years and found that marijuana use increased the likelihood of sexual activity. “Latent growth curve modeling indicated that greater marijuana use at baseline was associated with a steeper decline in condom use over the two-year period of the study,” Bryan said. She also found that the initial level of marijuana use was more predictive of condom use than changes in marijuana use. Teens who decreased their marijuana intake were still likely to have unprotected sex if they had initially been heavy marijuana users.
Even though there were fewer female participants than males in this study, the sample size was large enough to provide ample evidence of no gender effect on marijuana use and sexual practice. Bryan believes these findings can improve negative teen outcomes by pinpointing adolescents who are most likely to participate in risk taking as a result of marijuana use.
Bryan, Angela D., Sarah J. Schmiege, and Renee E. Magnan. Marijuana use and risky sexual behavior among high-risk adolescents: Trajectories, risk factors, and event-level relationships. Developmental Psychology 48.5 (2012): 1429-442. Print.
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