Exploring the Impact of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries on Teen Cannabis Use in Illinois

In recent years, the debate around cannabis legalization and its societal impact has intensified, particularly concerning its influence on teenagers. A groundbreaking study by researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign sheds new light on this topic, revealing surprising insights into the relationship between the presence of medical cannabis dispensaries and teenage cannabis use in Illinois. Contrary to what some might expect, the study found that Illinois teenagers living near medical cannabis dispensaries reported lower rates of cannabis use compared to their peers in areas without such dispensaries. This intriguing discovery prompts a closer examination of how the accessibility of medical cannabis affects adolescent behavior and challenges prevailing assumptions about the implications of cannabis legalization.

Overview of the Illinois Youth Survey

cannabis youth study illinois

The foundational data for this analysis comes from the 2018 Illinois Youth Survey, a comprehensive and biennial assessment conducted by the Center for Prevention Research and Development at the University of Illinois. The survey targeted a diverse group of students in the eighth, 10th, and 12th grades from various schools across Illinois, encompassing a wide array of health and social issues. This includes a focus on alcohol, tobacco, and drug use among adolescents, providing a rich dataset for understanding trends in youth behavior.

In total, the survey engaged over 10,560 young people, providing a robust and representative sample of the adolescent population in Illinois. The anonymous nature of the survey ensured candid responses, giving researchers an unfiltered view of youth substance use patterns. It's important to note that the data collection for this survey took place between January and June of 2018. This timeframe is particularly significant as it predates the legalization of recreational cannabis in Illinois, which commenced in January 2020. At the time of the survey, the state had 53 operational medical cannabis dispensaries, with two additional licenses approved but not yet functional.

The findings from the Illinois Youth Survey offer a unique snapshot of adolescent substance use in a pivotal period of cannabis legislation and commercial availability in the state. This sets the stage for an in-depth exploration of how the presence of medical cannabis dispensaries correlates with teenage cannabis use.

Key Findings of the Study

One of the most striking outcomes of the 2018 Illinois Youth Survey was the apparent inverse relationship between the presence of medical cannabis dispensaries and the rate of cannabis use among teens. In ZIP codes where medical dispensaries were located, approximately 18.3% of youths reported having used cannabis in the previous year. This figure contrasts with the 22.4% usage rate reported by teenagers residing in ZIP codes without dispensaries. This difference challenges many preconceived notions about the accessibility of cannabis and its use among adolescents.

Furthermore, the study revealed a similar pattern for more recent cannabis use. In areas with dispensaries, only 12% of students reported using cannabis in the past 30 days, compared to 15.6% in areas without such facilities. These findings point to a more complex dynamic between the availability of medical cannabis and its consumption by teenagers than what might be superficially expected.

Analysis and Insights from Researchers

Doug Smith, the director of the Center for Prevention Research and Development at the University of Illinois and a professor of social work, offered crucial insights into these unexpected findings. Smith emphasized that the presence of medical cannabis dispensaries did not seem to have an immediate impact on adolescent substance use rates in Illinois. In fact, the data suggested that those living in areas with a dispensary were less likely to use cannabis, both in the short term (past 30 days) and over a longer period (past year).

Smith admitted that these results did not lend themselves to an obvious explanation. He speculated that the limited number of dispensaries in 2018, totaling just 53 across the state, might not have been sufficient to significantly influence adolescent behavior at that time. This consideration points to the complexity of factors that govern substance use among teenagers, suggesting that mere proximity to cannabis dispensaries is not a definitive determinant of usage patterns.

In light of these findings, Smith urged caution against overreacting to the legalization of cannabis and its purported impact on teen substance use rates and prevalence. He highlighted the need for a balanced and data-driven approach to understanding the real-world implications of cannabis accessibility in communities, particularly as it relates to youth.

Cannabis Usage Trends Among Illinois Teens

An important aspect of the Illinois Youth Survey was its revelation of cannabis usage trends among adolescents across different grades. The data confirmed a consistent pattern seen nationwide: an increase in cannabis use as students progressed from the eighth to the 12th grade. This trend held true irrespective of the presence of a medical cannabis dispensary in their ZIP code, indicating that other factors besides mere availability might be influencing this age-related increase in use.

The demographic spread of the survey participants also shed light on regional differences in cannabis use. The survey found that 47% of the respondents were from suburban Chicago, 21% from other cities, approximately 18% from rural areas, and 14% resided in the city of Chicago. Interestingly, the prevalence of cannabis usage was higher in more densely populated areas. For instance, 29% of students living in the city of Chicago reported having used cannabis, compared to 19% from the suburbs, 22% from other urban areas, and 19% from rural students. These variations suggest that urbanization and associated social factors might play a significant role in adolescent cannabis use.

The Role of Dispensary Proximity and Awareness

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A unique angle explored in the study was the potential influence of ZIP code size on students' awareness of the presence of a medical cannabis dispensary and, consequently, their usage of cannabis. The researchers considered whether students residing in larger ZIP codes might be less aware of living near a dispensary and how this might affect their substance use behavior.

Interestingly, the study found that the average land area of ZIP codes with dispensaries was smaller (23.7 square miles) than those without them (33.2 square miles). However, no significant correlation emerged between the size of a ZIP code and teen cannabis use. This finding further complicates the narrative around dispensary proximity and adolescent behavior, suggesting that factors such as community awareness and social attitudes might be at play, beyond just geographical proximity to cannabis dispensaries.

In conclusion, while the presence of dispensaries might intuitively be thought to increase cannabis use among nearby teens, the study's findings suggest a more nuanced reality. Factors like urbanization, social environment, and individual awareness appear to play a crucial role in shaping adolescent cannabis consumption patterns.

Caution Against Cannabis Concentrates

A notable concern raised by Doug Smith in light of the survey's findings pertains to the use of cannabis concentrates, especially among teenagers. Smith underscores the importance of caution given the high THC content in concentrates and the ongoing development of the adolescent brain. He suggests that forms of cannabis that are less concentrated may be more suitable, particularly for younger users whose brains are still developing. This advice reflects a growing awareness in the cannabis research community about the varied effects of different cannabis products and the need for tailored advice, especially for younger users.

The Need for Ongoing Research and Monitoring

research on cannabis and teenagers

The study highlights the necessity for ongoing research and continuous monitoring of cannabis use, especially as new forms like concentrates become more prevalent. Smith emphasizes the importance of replicating these studies to understand the evolving landscape of cannabis use and its impact on different demographics, especially teenagers. As the cannabis market diversifies and new products emerge, understanding their implications on public health becomes increasingly vital. This call for ongoing research serves as a reminder that our understanding of cannabis and its societal impact is still evolving and requires constant vigilance and study.


The findings from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign offer a counterintuitive perspective on the relationship between medical cannabis dispensaries and teenage cannabis use. Contrary to expectations, the presence of dispensaries correlated with lower reported use among teens. This revelation challenges many preconceived notions about the impact of cannabis accessibility on youth and underscores the complexity of this issue.

What emerges from the study is a nuanced portrait of cannabis use among Illinois teens, influenced by a variety of factors including urbanization, community awareness, and individual behavior. The lack of a clear correlation between dispensary proximity and increased cannabis use among adolescents suggests that the issue is far more complex than mere access to the substance.

As the legal landscape around cannabis continues to evolve, it becomes increasingly important to base our policies and public health strategies on data-driven research. Studies like this one provide valuable insights that can help guide decision-making and ensure that the legalization and regulation of cannabis are conducted in a manner that prioritizes public health, particularly for our youth. Continued research and monitoring are essential as we navigate this evolving landscape and strive to understand the full implications of cannabis accessibility in our communities.

E1011 Labs on Cannabis Accessibility and Youth

cannabis advocacy for adult use only

As a leader in the field of cannabinoid delivery systems, E1011 Labs brings a unique perspective to the conversation on cannabis accessibility and its impact on youth. Our mission at E1011 Labs is not only to innovate in the realm of cannabinoid consumption technology but also to foster responsible and informed use, especially among younger demographics.

Understanding the Impact of Accessibility:

At E1011 Labs, we recognize that the accessibility of cannabis, particularly in areas with medical dispensaries, plays a significant role in shaping usage patterns. The findings from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign align with our commitment to understanding how accessibility influences behavior. Our approach is grounded in the belief that with greater access comes a greater responsibility to educate and inform, particularly the youth.

Advocating for Responsible Use:

Our ethos at E1011 Labs is rooted in the promotion of responsible use. We understand that the developing adolescent brain is more susceptible to the effects of high THC products. Therefore, we advocate for a cautious approach, particularly regarding concentrated forms of cannabis. This aligns with the advice given by experts like Doug Smith, highlighting the need for age-appropriate education about cannabis and its effects.

A note: Our products are meant to be used by adults of legal smoking age in their respective states or countries. E1011 Labs does not condone the underage use of our products.

Technology and Education:

E1011 Labs is at the forefront of developing technology that not only enhances the experience of cannabinoid consumption but also prioritizes safety and education. We believe in leveraging technology to provide users, including the younger generation, with comprehensive information about the products they use. Our goal is to ensure that users are well-informed about the contents, effects, and appropriate use of various cannabis products.

Supporting Ongoing Research:

As proponents of data-driven approaches, we at E1011 Labs support ongoing research into cannabis use and its societal impact. We believe that studies like the one conducted by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are crucial in shaping a balanced and health-focused approach to cannabis legalization and regulation. Understanding the nuances of cannabis use among different demographics allows us to tailor our products and educational efforts to meet the needs of diverse user groups.

In conclusion, E1011 Labs views the findings of this study as an opportunity to reinforce our commitment to responsible cannabis use, particularly among teenagers. We believe in the power of technology, education, and research to guide individuals towards informed and health-conscious decisions regarding cannabis use. As the landscape of cannabis accessibility continues to evolve, we remain dedicated to contributing positively to this dialogue, prioritizing public health and informed consumption.