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US Army recruits with history of cannabis use perform no worse than others – study

The study focused on waivers for new recruits with a history of cannabis consumption, ADHD and mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety



A US government-funded report examining army recruits has found that past cannabis use may not have an impact on overall performance.

The US Army report showed that recruits were more likely to leave the army over their cannabis use rather than over health or performance issues. It also found that recruits with a history of cannabis were just as likely to make sergeant.

The report, by the RAND’s Arroyo Center, a US army research and development centre, focuses on waivers that allow the army to reconsider applicants who have been initially rejected for various reasons including cannabis consumption. Applicants who test positive, hold court records or self-disclose their use require a waiver to enlist.

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The researchers collected records of recruits who entered the US Army from 2001 to 2012 then tracked them through until 2018.

In some cases, those recruits with attention deficit (hyperactive) disorder (ADD/ADHD), anxiety disorders or a history of depression may not qualify for a waiver. The researchers were interested in determining if there needs to be improved screening of those with mental health conditions or ADHD. They also wanted to examine if the legalisation of cannabis in certain US states should lead to screening policy changes.  ADHD diagnoses are increasing in the US and affect 10 per cent of the population according to the report.

US Army report

In a blog post, RAND wrote: “Without waivers, a failed drug test for cannabis would block the one-third of American 18-year-olds who say they have used marijuana at least once in the past year. Recruits who make it into the US Army despite low-level histories of cannabis use perform no worse, overall than other soldiers. That should be welcome news in recruiting offices nationwide.”

Micheal Hansen, associate director of RAND Arroyo Centre said: “When people hear ‘waivers,’ they sometimes think the US Army is letting people in who really shouldn’t be there. The strongest message of our report is that using waivers has nothing to do with changing quality standards.”

US Army waivers

The RAND researchers reported that groups of recruits would change relatively little if waivers were to be increased. They noted that in some cases this would be an improvement in performance. They also found no strong evidence that legalisation had had an impact on recruits either.

The authors suggest that the US Army ‘continue to carefully screen recruits with a documented history of cannabis but should be less concerned with these recruits if they have no misconduct offences.”


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