Risk is still relevant: Time-varying associations between perceived risk and marijuana use among US 12th grade students from 1991 to 2016

AbstractBackground Perceived risk of harm has long been a key preventive factor for adolescent marijuana use. However, in recent years, perceived risk has decreased markedly and marijuana use has increased only slightly, leading to new questions about their association. This study investigates the magnitude and stability of the US adolescent marijuana risk/use association from 1991 to 2016, overall and by gender and race/ethnicity. Methods Self-reported data on past 12-month marijuana use, perceived risk of regular marijuana use, gender, and race/ethnicity were obtained from 275,768 US 12th grade students participating in the nationally representative Monitoring the Future study. Time-varying effect modeling (TVEM) was used to examine the marijuana risk/use association over time. Results Both before and after controlling for gender and race/ethnicity, perceived risk was a strong protective factor against adolescent marijuana use. The magnitude of the great risk/use association strengthened for Hispanic students; remained generally stable over time for 12th graders overall, males, females, and White students; and weakened for Black students. The magnitude of the moderate risk/use association strengthened for 12th graders overall, males, females, White and Hispanic students, but did not continue to strengthen for Black students from 2005 onwards. In general, marijuana use prevalence decreased over time within all levels of perceived risk. Conclusions Perceived risk remains a strong protective factor for adolescent marijuana use, and the protective association for moderate risk (vs. no/slight risk) is actually increasing over time. Results suggest that accurate and credible information on the risks associated with marijuana use should remain a key component of prevention efforts.