Weed legalisation linked to drop in alcohol, tobacco consumption, study says

Findings point to importance of cannabis-specific prevention and treatment efforts, scientists say

Vishwam Sankaran
Thursday 19 May 2022 06:47
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Marijuana facts versus fiction

Cannabis legalisation is linked to a reduction in alcohol and cigarette consumption, as well as pain medication misuse among young adults, a new study has suggested.

The research, published last week in the Journal of Adolescent Health, assessed trends in alcohol, nicotine, and non-prescribed pain reliever use in Washington State following the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use in 2012.

Scientists, including those from the University of Washington, analysed data from six annual waves of surveys from 2014 through 2019, covering 12,500 young adults of ages 18 to 25.

While previous studies have debunked the idea that cannabis is a so-called “gateway drug”, leading to the consumption of other, potentially more dangerous controlled substances, the new research confirms that cannabis legalisation does not lead to drastic increases in the use of alcohol and cigarettes or the misuse of non-prescribed opioids.

It found that the prevalence of past-month alcohol use, heavy episodic drinking (HED), and cigarette use and prevalence of past-year pain reliever misuse decreased among the cohort.

“Across years and age groups, the prevalence of substance use other than cannabis was higher among occasional and frequent cannabis users compared to cannabis non-users,” scientists wrote.

“Contrary to concerns about spillover effects, implementation of legalized nonmedical cannabis coincided with decreases in alcohol and cigarette use and pain reliever misuse,” they added.

However, the study found that the prevalence of e-cigarette use among the cohort rose during the timeframe of the assessment, likely due to the overall growth in consumption of vapes during this period in the US and not necessarily linked to cannabis legalisation.

Previous research has also shown that legalising weed can help people depend less on alcohol and other controlled substances.

A study published earlier this year found that cannabis legalisation is linked to reduced use of prescription medication for treating anxiety, pain, sleep, as well as seizures.

Another study in 2019 also found that recreational and medical cannabis access laws reduce morphine use.

While the link between cannabis use and the consumption of other controlled substances needs further research, scientists say the new findings point to the increased significance of cannabis-specific prevention and treatment efforts.

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