Neighborhood Environment and Urban African American Marijuana Use during High School

Beth A. Reboussin, Kerry M. Green, Adam J. Milam, C. Debra M. Furr-Holden, Nicholas S. Ialongo

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African American male high school students have the highest rates of marijuana use among all racial, ethnic, and gender groups, yet there is limited research examining contextual factors salient to the African American community. The purpose of this study was to examine how neighborhood environment measured in 8th grade is related to longitudinal transitions in marijuana use during high school (9th to 12th grades) in a sample of urban African Americans. Four hundred and fifty-two African American children were interviewed annually beginning in 1st grade as part of a longitudinal field study in Baltimore city. Latent transition analysis indicated early in high school posed the greatest risk for initiation and progression of marijuana use. Community violence exposure was associated with an increased likelihood of transitioning from no marijuana use to infrequent use (adjusted odds ratios (AOR) = 2.40, p < 0.001). Higher perceived neighborhood disorder (AOR = 3.20, p = 0.004), drug activity and sales in the neighborhood (AOR = 2.28, p = 0.028), and community violence exposure (AOR = 4.54, p < 0.001) were associated with an increased risk of transitioning from no use to frequent/problematic marijuana use. There was evidence for partial mediation of these associations by perceptions of harm and depressed mood. Drug activity and sales was associated with progression from infrequent to frequent and problematic use (AOR = 2.87, p = 0.029). African American youth living in urban environments with exposure to drug activity, violence, and neighborhood disorder are at increased risk for both initiation and progression to more frequent and problematic marijuana use during high school. These findings highlight the need to develop interventions for African American youth that are mindful of the impact of the additional stressors of living in a high-risk urban environment during a critical developmental transition period. Reducing exposure to drug activity and violence in high-risk urban neighborhoods may be the first step to potentially halt increasing rates of marijuana use among African Americans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1189-1201
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Urban Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 25 2014


  • African American
  • Marijuana
  • Neighborhood environment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Urban Studies
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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