Legalization of recreational cannabis may be linked with asthma prevalence among children and adolescents

Jan. 19, 2023
child using nebulizer

A new study suggests a link between the legalization of cannabis for recreational use and the prevalence of asthma among children and adolescents.

The study, led by CUNY SPH Professor Renee Goodwin, found a slight increase in asthma among teens in states with recreational legalization, relative to those where it remains fully illegal.

Asthma is the most common chronic condition among children in the U.S., affecting approximately 5 million children. Prior studies from Goodwin and colleagues show that cannabis use is increasing among adults with children in the home, especially in states with cannabis legalization for medical and/or recreational use. Exposure to secondhand smoke is a key risk factor for asthma among children.

To investigate the relationship between cannabis legalization for medical and/or recreational use and the state-level prevalence of asthma among children in the U.S., Goodwin, along with Associate Professor Katarzyna Wyka and colleagues, used data from the 2011-2019 National Survey on Children’s Health, a representative sample of the population of minor children in the U.S.

The researchers found that childhood asthma increased among teens ages 12-17 by 2019 in states where recreational cannabis is legal when compared to states where it remains illegal. An increase was also observed among youth from some minoritized ethnic and racial minority groups by 2019, relative to 2011 in states with recreational legalization relative to those where cannabis use is not legal. In states where recreational cannabis is not legal, there was a decline in childhood asthma.

Overall, declines in the prevalence of childhood asthma were less pronounced in states where cannabis use has been legalized for recreational use, relative to those where it remains fully illegal, from 2011 to 2019.

 “More research is needed to understand the potential impact of increased adult use of cannabis on children’s respiratory health,” says Goodwin. “In the meantime, providing information and education in clinical and public health settings, analogous to that which is now standard practice with tobacco use among adults and parents, especially those with children with asthma, would likely be useful to folks. This is not common knowledge, and cannabis smoke is often perceived as ‘less harmful’ than secondhand cigarette smoke.”

R.D. Goodwin, K. Wyka, M. Luo, et al., Cannabis legalization and childhood asthma in the United States: An ecologic analysis, Preventive Medicine (2022)