ADOLESCENT MARIJUANA USE AND ADULT EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT
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An increasing number of states in the United States (U.S.) today are legalizing marijuana for adult recreational consumption (Robinson et al., 2018), and nearly 40% of American 12th graders have used marijuana in the past year (Miech et al., 2018). At the same time, 1 in 10 American adults have not attained a high school diploma and another ~5 in 10 have not attained a degree beyond a high school diploma (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017). A few prior longitudinal studies suggest that marijuana use during adolescence is negatively associated with adult educational attainment; however, findings also indicate that associations become attenuated after consideration of potential confounding variables. Theoretical perspectives support the hypothesis that other factors may play a role in the overall negative associations between adolescent marijuana use and adult educational attainment. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health, Harris et al., 2017), a nationally representative cohort study of adolescents who were enrolled in grades 7-12 during the 1994-1995 school year and were re-interviewed in 2008-2009 (N=3,463), this study investigated whether various measures of marijuana use during adolescence – lifetime use, frequent use, and use before age 15 – have a direct effect on attaining a high school diploma/GED, completing vocational/technical training after high school, attaining a bachelor’s degree, and attaining a master’s degree, independent of any mediating effects contributed by the following variables: grades in school, having a job, use of other substances, peer substance use, parental relationship, and various indicators of engagement/disengagement from school.Findings indicate that overall, lifetime marijuana use, frequent marijuana use, and marijuana use before age 15 were each negatively associated with various educational attainment cut points among the various adolescent age groups evaluated (i.e., ages 12-13 years, 14-15 years, and 16-17 years) when controlling only for demographic characteristics. However, when conducting mediation analyses using the KHB-method (Karlson, Holm, & Breen, 2012) to decompose the total effect of marijuana use into its direct effect and indirect effects by way of associations with mediator variables, the overall negative relationships found between adolescent marijuana use and adult educational attainment for each marijuana use measure and for each age group were fully explained by other factors, with one exception: among adolescents aged 12-13 years, those who used marijuana frequently (i.e., 20 or more times in the past 30 days) were less likely to attain a high school diploma/GED than those who did not use marijuana frequently. Grades in school and peer use of substances generally contributed most to the overall significant relationships found between adolescent marijuana use and adult educational attainment. Findings from this study suggest that resource expenditures for marijuana use prevention efforts should be prioritized toward interventions targeted to prevent high levels of marijuana use early in adolescence. Further, across adolescence, addressing factors that contribute most to the indirect effects of marijuana use on educational attainment, particularly grades and peers, should attenuate overall negative associations and benefit long-term educational outcomes. Future research assessing whether findings here among the U.S. population vary among subgroups of the population, such as groups according to sex, race/ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, can further inform how best to target and tailor interventions to improve adult educational outcomes.