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Study: Cannabis Brings Down Alcohol & Tobacco Use

Study into teens and cannabis
Written by Sarah Friedman

Yet another study indicates that a legalization will not increase cannabis use rates; and might be beneficial in lowering alcohol and tobacco use

We don’t have to argue that alcohol and tobacco both lead to many problems; and a new cohort study into cannabis indicates that use of the plant, brings down both.

Cohort study

The current study in question, is called Pre-Post Cannabis Legalization for Adult Use: A Trend Study of Two Cohorts of Young Adult Cannabis Users in Los Angeles. It was funded by the government organization National Institute on Drug Abuse, but comes with the disclaimer that the report reflects the work of the researchers, and is not the opinion of the government agency. It was published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

As per the title of the study, it specifically looked at two groups of adults, in the Los Angeles area, since cannabis legalization in 2016. Among other things, the study undertook to see if cannabis use has an effect on the use of other substances.

The study focused on adults who were 18-20 years old at the time of the survey; which means the legalization technically did not apply to them, as it only applies to those 21 and above. However, at those ages, all participants were legally able to be medical marijuana patients. The study did not actually follow the same group over the entire period of examination; but rather two separate groups. Usually the term ‘cohort’ indicates following one group over time. In this case, the two main time periods, used two different groups.

Study says legalization laws don't increase use
Study says legalization laws don’t increase use

The participants were either medical cannabis patients (MCP), or non-patient cannabis users (NPU). All participants were between the ages of 18-20 at the time of the study. Both groups filled out surveys, the first, before the adult use legalization, in 2014-2015. The second group did it a few years later in 2019-2020. All together there were 172 in the first round, and 139 in the second. Similar data collection was used for both.

What did the study find?

Along with cannabis use in the past 90 days, the study also looked at the use of other substances within that time period. It then estimated differences between cohorts for both cannabis use, as well as other substances. The study turned up some interesting results.

For one, medical cannabis patients were more likely to report their use, whether before the legalization or after. The cohort for after legalization was more likely to report using edibles. The post legalization cohort also reported a lower average of days with alcohol use and cigarette use, when the investigators used multivariate models.

In terms of just cannabis use, there wasn’t a significant difference from before legalization to after; in terms of the numbers of days of use, or the number of hits per day. The only significant change, was in the use of edibles. Whether there was greater access or not, did not seem to affect the amount used.

According to the study authors, “despite the possibilities of increased access to cannabis via diversion from the adult use market and increased normalization of cannabis use,” there wasn’t actually an increase in cannabis usage.

They continued that “Regarding other licit substance use, we observed significantly fewer days of alcohol and cigarette use among the [post-legalization] cohort compared to the [pre-legalization] cohort,” and that there might be a “possibility of a protective effect offered by cannabis, including edibles, or potentially ongoing changes in norms and attitudes toward these substances within this socio-historical context.”

Survey says edible use has gone up
Survey says edible use has gone up

Investigators posit that cannabis could even be used as a substitute for both alcohol and tobacco products. They said this could be attributed to its wider accessibility post legalization, and the advent of adult use dispensaries.

Do legalization measures increase use?

This study falls in line with nearly all study results related to whether cannabis legalization measures actually increase use (and in how cannabis might affect things like alcohol use). According to pretty much everything currently out there, they do not. This might sound weird since literally every politician and legalization effort, include programs for addiction; so much so that it becomes confusing that there are legalization measures at all.

Of course, the politician fear lines, and huge taxes meant to fund these programs, blatantly disregard that cannabis was already widely used before any country instituted a legalization policy recently. So much so that, again, it creates a disconnect between the logic around us, and the laws meant to govern us.

Even regardless of the amount of bad research out there; I have not actually seen one research headline promoting the idea that a cannabis legalization increases use for any age group. And logically, it shouldn’t. It’s been a highly accessible black market product for decades; meaning legalization efforts divert to a legal market, they don’t create a new thing. So while we continue to hear fear lines from politicians, no research (or logic, or real life scenario) backs up these fears.

For example, Uruguay was the first country in recent times to legalize recreational use. As such, its done a lot of work to establish if this has had an effect on use rates; particularly, increased use rates, and use by minors. At least two times now, studies have come out from that country, showing cannabis has yet to increase use rates in all these years of legalization. One was specifically on secondary school students (about the age where there seems to be fear of increasing use); and one on new cannabis users since legalization.

Study indicates cannabis brings down alcohol use

Apart from the fact there seems to be no statistics or research to show this feared increase exists; there’s also a growing body of research (including this study) that indicates cannabis (whether CBD, THC, whole plant etc..) can actually lower the rate of other substances, like alcohol use. In this study, the indication is that the use of cannabis might have brought down the use of alcohol and cigarettes in 18-20 year olds. Isn’t this what we want?

Study indicates cannabis brings down alcohol use
Study indicates cannabis brings down alcohol use

Well, how about another recent study that indicates CBD can help bring down opioids use. Is there a politician out there who really wants to argue that a no death-toll drug shouldn’t be pushed in place of pharmaceuticals that are killing people left and right? And for that matter, this is certainly not the first study to indicate this possibility.

In fact, there are tons, which attack the matter from all different angles. The only research put out there that says otherwise, does so in sketchy ways that require picking and choosing information in order to get the desired result…which is not the point of research, and indicative of the kind of research that so often gets retracted.

It’s also good to remember that whether cannabis has this capacity or not; it doesn’t pose the same danger as any of the drugs its compared to. There is undoubtedly an issue with rising THC levels in cannabis, but this was never an issue until legal markets started. As of yet, this has not resulted in an increased death toll, or at least not one that’s been reported on. It does, however, lead to more THC overdoses and emergency room visits.


So, do legalization efforts increase cannabis use, and does cannabis use bring down use of other deadlier substances? The first seems to be an outright ‘no’ from everything out there. With an even bigger ‘does it matter?’ attached. As far as the second, it certainly seems likely. And realistically, anything that can help with the increased overdoses and failing health of America, kind of seems like a good thing.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.