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Report: Youth Use of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Pain Meds Decreased Where Cannabis is Legal

Report: Youth Use of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Pain Meds Decreased Where Cannabis is Legal

Washington, DC: The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) reports that the retail sales of cannabis have been associated with a reduction in the use of alcohol, tobacco products, and prescription pain medications among young adults. Citing data published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, NORML suggests that contrary to claims that legalization of cannabis would result in a slippery slope to greater consumption of substances through the “gateway effect” theory, the opposite is taking place.

Over 12,500 young people aged 18 to 25 years of age were assessed by looking at usage trends for alcohol, nicotine, and illicit pain relief medications in Washington State post-adult-use legalization.

Researchers reported, “Contrary to concerns about spillover effects, implementation of legalized non-medical cannabis coincided with decreases in alcohol and cigarette use and pain reliever misuse.” However, the use of e-cigarettes over the past month appeared to increase after legalization.

“Our findings add to evidence that the legalization of non-medical cannabis has not led to dramatic increases in the use of alcohol, cigarettes, and non-prescribed opioids. … The findings indicate that the most critical public health concerns surrounding cannabis legalization and the evolution of legalized cannabis markets may be specific to cannabis use and related consequences,” the researchers added.

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Proponents of prohibition have long suggested that legalized cannabis would result in greater youth use of cannabis and other substances. But some communities where cannabis is now sold in state legal retail shops have reported decreased opioid use during a time when overdose deaths have skyrocketed.

A study by the BMJ indicated that counties in the U.S. where retail cannabis is available experienced a lower incidence of opioid-related deaths between 2014 and 2018, including deaths from synthetic opioids. In the last year of that study, 46,802 opioid deaths occurred in the United States, two-thirds of which were caused by synthetic opioids like Fentanyl, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.