From bud to Bud Light: Legalizing marijuana causes alcohol use to RISE, major study finds

Alcohol use rises in states that legalize marijuana for recreational marijuana use, a major study has found.

The findings run contrary to claims by advocates that legalizing pot would make people drink less.

Researchers looked at data for 4.2 million people in all 50 states from 2010 until 2019.

They found that recreational legalization was ‘associated with significant increases in alcohol use that increased in magnitude over time’.

The effect was most significant among younger adults 18 to 24 and men who were not college-educated. 

The researchers from University of Pittsburgh and William Paterson University in New Jersey said their findings show booze consumption ‘is responsive to cannabis liberalization policies’.

So far, 19 states have legalized marijuana for recreational use in adults, while 38 states have passed laws permitting it to be used for medicinal purposes. 

A leading argument in the crusade for weed’s legalization was that its adverse health effects are more modest than those of illicit drugs as well as alcohol.   

Legalization has brought negative side effects as well. 

Research over the years has found that legalization spurred a jump in traffic accidents, including fatal ones, and hinders teens’ academic achievement. 

This graph reports percentage point changes in alcohol use over time by year. Marijuana legalization’s links with alcohol consumption and sales have been investigated in the past, but the latest report out Friday is the most comprehensive yet.  

The above shows cannabis use across American states. Some 19 have legalized it for recreational use, while nearly all now allow it to be used for medicinal purposes

The above shows cannabis use across American states. Some 19 have legalized it for recreational use, while nearly all now allow it to be used for medicinal purposes

The link between recreational marijuana use and alcohol consumption was most significant among younger adults 18 to 24, though the association between the two is likely not a product of college partying.

The link between recreational marijuana use and alcohol consumption was most significant among younger adults 18 to 24, though the association between the two is likely not a product of college partying.

Recreational marijuana legalization is associated with increased alcohol use and the researchers behind this finding posit that both compliment each other economically, meaning as demand spikes for one substance it spikes alongside the other.

Recreational marijuana legalization is associated with increased alcohol use and the researchers behind this finding posit that both compliment each other economically, meaning as demand spikes for one substance it spikes alongside the other. 

The authors wrote: ‘Exploring the association of cannabis legalization and alcohol use is especially important given the rapid pace at which states are passing RCLs [recreational cannabis laws].

‘Cannabis legalization increases cannabis use, which by itself has many health-related costs.’

To quantify the jump in alcohol use in those states, the study used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual survey, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. They looked at answers from adults aged 18 and up over nine years.

Marijuana use in the US 

The annual Monitoring the Future survey reported that marijuana and hallucinogen use among 19-30 year olds was up

The proportion of young adults who reported past-year marijuana use reached 43 per cent in 2021

That is a significant increase from 34 per cent in 2016 and 29 per cent in 2011. 

Marijuana use in the previous month among 19-30 year olds reached 29% in 2021 compared to 21% in 2016 and 17% in 2011 

Daily marijuana use also significantly increased during these time periods, reported by 11% of young adults in 2021, compared to 8% in 2016 and 6% in 2011 

The report said that alcohol remains the most used substance among adults

The study marks the biggest and most comprehensive investigation into the link between marijuana and alcohol use.   

The results, published Friday in the journal JAMA Health Forum, are not the first to find the association.

A study published in 2019 that found states that had implemented recreational cannabis policies tended to have higher per capita alcohol sales.  

Research into the link between substance use is expected to grow as more states reform their laws concerning marijuana use. 

Still, findings concerning the link between alcohol and marijuana use are mixed, and many contradict older research that suggested marijuana legalization actually put downward pressure on alcohol sales.  

Meanwhile, a 2016 analysis of 39 reports on whether marijuana availability decreases alcohol use concluded that 16 supported the idea that people substitute marijuana use for alcohol.

Ten of those studies suggested that marijuana availability increased alcohol use.

For instance, a team of researchers at the University of Washington reported in May that when a state decriminalizes recreational use of marijuana, the use of alcohol and the abuse of pain medications and smoking cigarettes by young people decreases. 

The study was far smaller than the one that was released Friday. It was based on responses from fewer than 12,700 Washingtonians ages 18 to 25.  

The legal landscape of marijuana in terms of its availability potency has changed drastically over the past decade. 

Nineteen states have legalized marijuana for recreational use in adults, while 38 states have passed laws allowing marijuana use for medical purposes. 

Anecdotally, patients say the drug helps with severe anxiety and depression, PTSD, and insomnia, as well as other mental or emotional conditions. 

It also helps to relieve severe pain in people with health conditions such as multiple sclerosis or cancer patients going through taxing chemotherapy treatments. 

Just over 42 per cent of Americans 19 to 30 reported either smoking or consuming cannabis in the last year — the biggest proportion since records began in 1988.

A growing body of research has shown that chronic marijuana use can alter brain development in young adults and even raise the risk of mental health issues and even a lower IQ.

And it’s no secret that increased alcohol use can have drastic negative health effects. It impairs your frontal lobe, affects your neurotransmitters, and creates a dopamine imbalance, which may result in anxiety, depression, memory loss and an inability to think rationally. 

Alcohol use also leads to as many as one in five US deaths from all causes. It accounted for 12 per cent of deaths from all causes from 2015to 2019. When reduced to those aged 20 to 49, alcohol made up 20.3 per cent of deaths. 

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