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Study: Women More Likely to View Marijuana as Risky

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Women are twice as likely as men to believe that regular cannabis consumption poses “great risk,” according to a demographic analysis published this month in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Researchers at John Hopkins University and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health analyzed data from 614,579 participants in the 2002-2012 National Survey on Drug Use and correlated demographic characteristics with subjects’ beliefs regarding marijuana’s risk to health.

Authors reported that female subjects, non-whites, participants over the age of 50 and those with a family income between $20,000 and $49,000 were most likely to believe that cannabis posed a serious threat. By contrast, those least likely to perceive marijuana to be significantly harmful were between the ages of 18 and 25, had completed high school and/or college and reported a total family income of $75,000 or more.

Overall, researchers concluded that the number of Americans who say that cannabis poses great danger is declining. In 2002, 51 percent of those surveyed associated great risk with marijuana use. That number dropped to 40 percent in 2012.

Females’ perceived fears of pot are also waning. Although women were nearly two times more likely than men to believe that marijuana was harmful, perceived risk among females decreased from 59 percent in 2002 to 47 percent in 2012.

"The sex differences in perceived risk of regular cannabis use observed in our study are consistent with reports from others showing male-female differences in perceived risk of substance use in general," said Silvia Martins, an associate professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and a co-author of the study.

In particular, national polling data published by the Pew Research Center in 2013 found that men were more likely than women to support legalizing pot by nine-percentage point (57 percent to 48 percent). Previous polling by Pew dating back to 1969 reported a similar gender gap in support among men and women. The 2013 Pew survey also reported that 57 percent of women “feel uncomfortable around marijuana users.” Forty-four percent of men responded affirmatively to the same question.

But gender was far from the only characteristic associated with whether or not Americans believed in the alleged dangers of pot. Added Dr. Martins: "In addition, interestingly, individuals with a high school education or greater were significantly less likely to perceive great risk of regular cannabis use than those with less than a high school education, … indicating that adults with a college education compared to those without are more likely to support legalization of cannabis."

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