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First time drug use more common in summertime

Science Highlight

August 01, 2019

Government surveys showed that in 2017, an estimated three million people tried marijuana for the first time, just over a million tried cocaine, close to 800,000 tried LSD, and close to 790,000 initiated use of ecstasy (MDMA/Molly). NIDA-funded researchers investigated if this first-time drug use could be related to seasonal environments.

Scientists analyzed data from the 2011–2017 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health looking at nearly 400,000 people and their first-time use of these four substances. They found that initiation of each of the drugs was significantly more likely to occur in summer than in other months. Specifically, about 30% of marijuana use, 28% of cocaine use, 34% of LSD use, and 30% of ecstasy use was initiated in summer compared with other seasons. These findings add to previous research that has found that emergency department visits resulting from acute drug intoxication peak over the summer months. However, it is not known how many of those visits result from first-time use or from repeated substance use.

Authors theorize that summer offers more idle time, as well as social activities, including outdoor dance festivals and parties, that increase exposure to drugs. More research is needed to determine why summer is a risk factor for drug initiation and if the contributing factors can be modified. Additional information on seasonal variation in initiation of drug use would better inform prevention efforts and responses to potential adverse drug outcomes. These results do suggest that prevention efforts among parents and educators should possibly increase in late spring.

The project was conducted by scientists from the New York University School of Medicine and Columbia University.

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