While the benefits of marijuana legalization are aplenty, it’s also important to consider the possible consequences as well. According to a new study, not only does legalization lead to increased cannabis use, it increases the rate of cannabis users who develop addictive behaviors. The study highlights the possible public health consequences to legalization, so that regulators and lawmakers can create proper policies to prevent them.
“Although occasional marijuana use is not associated with substantial problems, long-term, heavy use is linked to psychological and physical health concerns, lower educational attainment, decline in social class, unemployment, and motor vehicle crashes,” researchers wrote in the study published in JAMA Psychiatry.
For the study, lead author Magdalena Cerdá, a drug policy expert at New York University, and her team analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2008-2016). The survey divided age groups between those between 12 to 17 (teenagers), 18 to 25 (young adults), and 26 years or older (older adults). The researchers then looked at how marijuana legalization affected whether participants used cannabis in the past month, and if they met the NSDUH’s definition for cannabis use disorder (their criteria include problematic use to addiction).
Where the sharpest rises in marijuana use occurred was for older adults, when comparing those in legal states vs. those in non-legal states. Among the age group, cannabis use in the past month jumped from 5.65% to 7.1%, frequent use rose from 2.13% to 2.62%, and cannabis use disorder recorded in the past year changed from 0.9% to 1.23%. However, the young adult group had no significant changes in marijuana consumption behaviors. While researchers found an increased risk of cannabis use disorder among teenagers, it was a relatively minor adjustment.
“For adolescents, I think we need to take the findings with a grain of salt,” Cerdá told Vox. “We need to really track changes among adolescents over a longer period of time and across other states that are legalizing to see if that’s really a robust finding or it’s actually due to some other third factor.”
As Vox adds, the researchers took special care in checking their findings against possible limitations. That included analyzing whether marijuana use was already increasing prior to legalization, if demographic or socioeconomic changes had any effect, or if other variables could be influencing their results.
Photo by gradyreese/Getty Images