New research has found that the legalization of cannabis may be linked to a drop in the use of cigarettes and alcohol by young adults. For their study, the researchers surveyed 311 individuals aged 18 to 20 years of age who were living in Los Angeles prior to and after the state legalized the recreational use of cannabis in 2016.
The participants were divided into two groups: prelegalization and postlegalization, with the latter group having 139 participants.
The researchers found that despite increased normalization of marijuana use and increased access to the drug, legalization did not cause the frequency of marijuana use to increase. However, they did observe a shift in the use of edibles after legalization. This, the researchers theorized, could point to a substitution effect that may have resulted from increased access to marijuana via diversion of marijuana from adult-use or medical marijuana dispensaries or a medical marijuana recommendation.
With regard to the use of other substances, the researchers observed a drop in cigarette and alcohol use among participants in the postlegalization group. This, they argued, suggested the possibility of a protective effect provided by marijuana or potentially ongoing changes in attitudes and norms toward the drug.
The study, which was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reported its findings in the “Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.”
The study’s findings counter arguments made by prohibitionists on the potential impact of legalizing marijuana, as the data also showed no significant rise in the use of cannabis among young adults who hadn’t attained the minimum age that’d allow them to access retail dispensaries. In their report, the researchers recommended that future studies monitor whether stable rates of marijuana use and reductions in the use of cigarettes and alcohol would be sustained as participants attained legal age to access these substances. They also recommended that research focus on how these trends altered or continued as participants entered adulthood.
This is not the first study to observe a possible substitution effect. Research that was published recently in the “International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction” reported that the legalization of medical cannabis was linked to a lower frequency of use for nonprescribed opioids. Separate research published in October also found that legal access to CBD products brought about considerable reductions in opioid prescriptions.
Earlier in August, another study determined that cannabis was significantly linked to decreased cravings for opioids for individuals who were using them without prescriptions. This suggests that expanding access to legal marijuana by letting various companies such as Canopy Growth Corp. (NASDAQ: CGC) (TSX: WEED) operate may offer individuals safer substitutes.
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