Legal cannabis could mean less alcohol consumption

One of the biggest problems for those concerned about the consequences of legalizing cannabis is the extent to which cannabis replaces alcohol, which is more dangerous in several important ways. Recent evidence from Canada and the United States reinforces the assumption that people tend to drink less when weed is legally available, although the problem is far from over…

In 2019, the first full year of legalization in Canada, the volume of beer sold in this country fell by 3%, reports the Financial Post. This decrease was significant compared to the annual decreases observed in the previous five years, which averaged 0,3%. Vivien Azer, an industry analyst quoted by the FPost , said the accelerated slide was likely related to the legalization of hemp, and predicted that the expansion of cannabis products available from legal sources - which in January included vapes, edibles and drinks as well as buds - "will perpetuate this trend".

More rigorous evidence on the relationship between lhas cannabis use and alcohol consumption come from a study published in the March 2020 issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors . Based on national survey data spanning 10 years, Zoe Alley and two other researchers from Oregon State University found that college students in US states where weed had been legalized for recreational use were less likely to report binge drinking than college students from other states. , after taking into account preexisting trends and several potential confounding variables. The difference was statistically significant among students aged 21 and over, the threshold for legal purchase.

This apparent substitution effect, the authors note, is consistent with previous studies which have found "reductions in alcohol consumption (particularly excessive alcohol consumption among young adults) and traffic accidents related to alcohol ”following medical legalization. A causal link is plausible in these studies if we assume that an apparently medical use is in fact recreational (or that certain drinks are functionally medical), so that the consumption of cannabis would replace the consumption of alcohol.

Previous research, Alley et al, found "a marked decrease in cannabis use which coincides with a marked increase in alcohol consumption after minors have reached the legal drinking age", which suggests that some young people replace cannabis with alcohol once they are legally allowed to drink. Researchers speculate that "the legalization of recreational use may moderate this effect, so students over the age of 21 who would otherwise have been binge drinking would continue to use weed instead" .

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