(HealthDay News) — As perceptions of marijuana change, more American adults are using marijuana than ever before, and they’re using it more often, according to a study published online in The Lancet Psychiatry.

Wilson Compton, MD, deputy director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, and colleagues surveyed 596,500 adults from 2002 to 2014. Of those surveyed in 2014, 13.3% said they’d used marijuana in the previous year, up from 10.4% in 2002. Daily or near daily use — 5 days or more a week — rose from 1.9 to 3.5% of adults during that time period.

The researchers estimated that the overall number of marijuana users increased from 21.9 million to 31.9 million during the time period, with first-time marijuana users jumping from 823,000 to 1.4 million. Daily users numbered 8.4 million in 2014 — more than twice as many as in 2002 (3.9 million). Greater use was associated with a drop in the percentage of people who associate smoking marijuana with harm. Where just one-third (33.3%) of Americans once considered marijuana safe, now half do (50.4%). Rates of marijuana abuse or dependence in the general population held steady at 1.5% from 2002 to 2014. Among marijuana users only, the rate of abuse or dependence dropped from 14.8 to 11.0%.

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Noting that marijuana’s potency has increased, Compton’s team said education about the harms of pot is essential. “We need to think about how to do appropriate prevention messaging to make sure people aren’t putting themselves at risk for becoming dependent and other problems associated with the drug,” Compton told HealthDay.

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1. Compton WM, Han B, Jones CM, Blanco C, and Hughes A. Marijuana use and use disorders in adults in the USA, 2002–14: analysis of annual cross-sectional surveys. Lancet. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(16)30208-5.
2. Lynskey M and Hall W. Cannabis use and cannabis use disorders. Lancet. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(16)30270-X.