By Lisa Rapaport

(Reuters Health) – American teens and adults may be more likely to try illegal or recreational drugs for the first time over the summer than at other times of year, a new study suggests.

Overall, 31% of youth and adults who use cannabis tried the drug for the first time during the summer months, the study found. Summer was also the starting season of choice for 28% of cocaine users, 34% of LSD users, and 30% of people who used ecstasy, also called MDMA or Molly.

“More research is needed to determine why summer is a risk factor for drug initiation, but we hypothesize that this may be related to people having more free time and to warmer weather, which is associated with more outdoor social gatherings,” said Joseph Palamar, lead author of the study and a researcher at the New York University School of Medicine.

“More frequent social gatherings likely increases potential for exposure to select drugs,” Palamar said by email. “I can’t help but think a lot of summer drug initiation is at dance festivals – especially drugs like ecstasy, also known now as Molly.”

In 2017 alone, more than 3 million Americans tried cannabis for the first time, while more than 1 million people tried cocaine and almost 800,000 people tried LSD or ecstasy, researchers report in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

While previous research has found that teens and college students are more likely to start smoking, drinking or using marijuana during the summer months, less is known about whether this holds true for other drugs or for older people, the study team notes.

For the current analysis, researchers examined survey data on drug use collected between 2011 and 2017 from 394,415 people aged 12 years and older. Participants who reported using cannabis, ecstasy/MDMA/Molly, LSD, and cocaine were asked if they started this within the past two years and, if so, what time of year they first tried the drug.

One limitation of the study is that it relied on survey participants to accurately recall and report on when they started using drugs. The differences in initiation rates between summer and other seasons were also modest though statistically meaningful, the study team notes.

“Drug initiation, and drug use happens all year long, with a relatively small bump in the summer,” said Dr. Sharon Levy, director of the Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.

While it’s important for kids to have down time and more social time over the summer, parents still shouldn’t permit activities that they wouldn’t allow kids to do during the rest of the year, Levy, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

“I would also recommend that whenever your kids are going to a party or a concert or to spend time out of the house, that you know where they are, who they are with and what they are planning on doing,” Levy added.

Parents should also speak very directly with teens before concerts and other events where drug use is common and make clear that they expect the outing to be drug-free.

“Kids misinterpret parents when they say things like ‘don’t do anything dumb,'” Levy said. “The parent means ‘don’t use alcohol or drugs’ but kids often hear ‘don’t drink too much’ or ‘don’t get into trouble’ which are very different things.”

SOURCE: Journal of General Internal Medicine, online July 23, 2019.