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Colorado Department of Public Health Data Shows Significant Drop in Teen Cannabis Use Rates

July 15, 2022

On June 15th 2022 the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) posted a press release highlighting the most recent statewide data from Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which included dramatic declines in substance use by Colorado youth in 2021:

  • Youth cannabis use dropped from 21% in 2020 to 13% in 2021
  • Youth alcohol use dropped from 30% in 2020 to 24% in 2021
  • Youth cigarette use dropped from 6% in 2020 to 3% in 2021
  • Youth electronic vaping use dropped from 26% in 2020 to 16% in 2021
  • Youth prescription pain medication use without a prescription only dropped from 7% in 2020 to 6% in 2021
  • Youth also reported that it is harder to access substances, like alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, electronic vapor products, and other drugs, than in prior survey years.
  • Youth reported increases in the perceived risk of harm by the daily use of substances.

Potential confounders for the decreases in substance use include reduced free time and social gatherings with friends and increased supervision by parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, increases in “perceived risk” is a promising sign that targeted campaigns to address teen substance use have produced positive results.

For instance, the CDPHE has emphasis community, peer, and family engagement and education campaigns such as “Meg the Budtender,” “Forward Together,” and Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT):

“Meg the Budtender” was designed to help educate the public about responsible consumption and storage of cannabis so that people could understand how to mitigate negative consequences such as child or teen use, driving while intoxicated, how to handle dosing with edibles, and where they can and can’t consume cannabis in a non-stigmatizing way.

“Forward Together” is a website that gives parents and youth tips on how to have tough conversations with children and friends about substance use. The program shows the importance of staying connected in healthy ways such as mutual hobbies, conflict resolution, and addressing substance use and mental health.

The SBIRT program is a program of Peer Assistance Services that support healthcare professionals and patients in having resonating conversations about substance use. It is an evidence-based program aimed at prevention and early intervention to help “identify, prevent and reduce” unhealthy and problematic substance use.

In sum, Colorado has seen decreases in teen substance use while providing trusted messengers, such as communities, friends, parents, and families, a set of tools to speak with teens and peers about the potential harm of cannabis and other substance use.