Study Summary: How Young Adults Respond to Cannabis Legalization

Welcome to Higher Learning LV's Study Summary series. This series reviews and summarizes peer-reviewed research studies and was developed specifically for cannabis industry professionals. These study summaries provide easily digested quick reads for a variety of important issues regarding the commerce and chemistry of legal cannabis.

Journal of Adolescent Health


The Study

A 2022 peer-reviewed research study entitled "Trends in Alcohol, Cigarette, E-Cigarette, and Nonprescribed Pain Reliever Use Among Young Adults in Washington State After Legalization of Nonmedical Cannabis" that was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health investigated the impact of state-level adult-use cannabis legalization on the cannabis consumption habits of older teens and young adults.


The study noted that "Cannabis laws may be accompanied by changes in the use of substances other than cannabis and changes in associations of cannabis use with other types of substance use."

The study noted that "cannabis laws may be accompanied by changes in the use of substances other than cannabis and changes in associations of cannabis use with other types of substance use." It explored "(1) trends in alcohol, nicotine, and non-prescribed pain reliever use and (2) changes in associations of cannabis use with these other substances among young adults in Washington State after non-medical cannabis legalization."

The scientific investigation analyzed six years of annual "cross-sectional survey data" gathered between 2014 and 2019 that involved 12,694 subjects classified into two groups: 18-20 year-olds and 21-25 year-olds.


The Results

The research revealed that, in the state of Washington during the time period considered, that "past-month alcohol use, heavy episodic drinking (HED), cigarette use, and...pain reliever misuse" decreased. However, the study also showed that e-cigarette use increased from 2016 to 2019.


"The connection between cannabis use and that of other substances, including 'heavy episodic drinking' and pain reliever misuse, weakened in the 21-25 year-old group."

The data examined for the time period in Washington State also revealed that some young adult cannabis users were more likely to engage in "substance use." "Across years and age groups, the prevalence of substance use other than cannabis was higher among occasional and frequent cannabis users compared to cannabis nonusers," reported the study.


The researchers found this link to be strongest in the 18-20 year-old group, but that the connection between cannabis use and that of other substances, including "heavy episodic drinking" and pain reliever misuse, weakened in the 21-25 year-old group.

"Associations between both occasional (1–19 days in the prior month) and frequent (20+ days) cannabis use and pain reliever misuse and between frequent cannabis use and HED weakened over time among individuals ages 21–25," reported the scientists.


The Conclusions

The study concluded that, in Washington State during the time period considered, the legalization of adult-use cannabis resulted in a decrease in the use of alcohol, cigarettes, and analgesic (pain medication) misuse.


"Contrary to concerns about spillover effects, implementation of legalized non-medical cannabis coincided with decreases in alcohol and cigarette use and pain reliever misuse."

"Contrary to concerns about spillover effects, implementation of legalized non-medical cannabis coincided with decreases in alcohol and cigarette use and pain reliever misuse," reported the study.


However, it noted that more studies are necessary to better understand the relationship between state-level adult-use legalization and the substance use patterns of young adults. "The weakening association of cannabis use with the use of other substances among individuals ages 21–25 requires further research," concluded the study.


View the original study.


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