UMass researchers contribute to key statewide marijuana study
AMHERST — In an attempt to understand cannabis use in the state before recreational marijuana sales soon begin, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health released a “marijuana baseline health study” on Friday.
The study — an effort conducted in no small part by University of Massachusetts researchers — provides a snapshot of patterns of and perceptions of marijuana use, the prevalence of hospitalizations and impaired driving, and the economic impacts of cannabis for state and local government.
The study was mandated by lawmakers in 2017, and will give researchers a baseline from which they can analyze future data — something other states that have legalized marijuana have struggled with.
“It’s pulling together a bunch of different data sources, and I think that it’s really important that this study was done, and done at the time that it was done,” said Jennifer Whitehill, a public health researcher at UMass Amherst who worked on the study. “It was a unique moment in time.”
That’s because the study was done after the state legalized recreational marijuana, but before stores are selling marijuana to state residents. In order to get at some of the questions at hand, researchers designed a survey of around 3,000 adults, meant to be representative of the state.
Among the results of the study that made for splashy headlines were that 21 percent of adult residents who took part in the survey had used cannabis within the last 30 days. For 18- to 25-year-olds, that number climbs to more than 50 percent.
In a regional breakdown, residents of western Massachusetts reported the highest prevalence of past 30-day marijuana use at around 30 percent.
Whitehall is an injury-prevention researcher by trade, focused on substance use as a risk factor for serious injury. She led research in the study on hospital visits