Study Finds Cannabis Outpaces Alcohol in Daily Use

Cannabis joint and a glass of alcohol

For the first time in history, Americans are now choosing cannabis over alcohol for daily use. This landmark shift, revealed by a recent study published in the journal Addiction, highlights a significant change in use patterns and public behaviour in the United States.

The study, conducted by Jonathan P. Caulkins, a Professor of Operations Research and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, examines cannabis use trends from the 1970s to 2022, focusing on its relationship with alcohol use. According to the data, the trend of cannabis overtaking alcohol in daily use has been progressing since at least 2022.

The Evolution of U.S. Cannabis Policy

The study identifies four key periods in the evolution of U.S. cannabis policy:

  • 1970s: Liberalisation marked by the Shafer Commission report and state decriminalisation efforts.
  • 1980-1992: The conservative Reagan-Bush drug war era.
  • 1993-2008: State-led medical marijuana liberalisation despite federal opposition.
  • 2009-2022: Federal non-interference, culminating in the legalisation in Colorado and Washington in 2012.

These periods show how changes in policy have influenced cannabis use patterns over the decades.

Cannabis and Alcohol Use

The research involved self-reported surveys from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), gathering data from over one million participants. The findings indicate that cannabis use reached its lowest point in 1992 but began to climb steadily through the 1990s and early 2000s.

Following federal non-interference in state-level legalisation from 2009, cannabis use surged significantly. From 2008 to 2022, the rate of people reporting past-year cannabis use more than doubled, with the total annual days of use increasing from 2.3 billion to 8.1 billion days.

In 2022, the typical cannabis user reported using it 15 to 16 days per month, while the typical drinker reported using alcohol 4 to 5 days per month.

Patterns of Usage

While alcohol use was more widespread, cannabis users displayed higher rates of daily use. Over 42.3% of monthly cannabis users reported daily use, compared to just 10.9% of alcohol users. Despite daily cigarette smoking still exceeding daily cannabis use, the patterns of cannabis use are becoming more akin to those of cigarettes.

The study shows that patterns of cannabis use are closely linked to shifts in public policy, with significant increases in use during times of policy relaxation. However, it's essential to note the limitations of self-reported surveys, which may lack verification through biological samples and exclude certain groups with unique cannabis use patterns. Social acceptance of cannabis might also lead to increased willingness to admit use, potentially inflating reported rates.

Personal Perspective

While the study does not definitively clarify whether legal changes directly influence usage patterns or merely reflect evolving attitudes, it is clear that cannabis use has fundamentally shifted in scale since legalisation. This change raises important questions about the future of substance use and public health in the United States.

This shift towards greater daily cannabis use over alcohol reflects broader societal changes in attitudes towards cannabis. The increasing legalisation and normalisation of cannabis use are likely to continue shaping use patterns. As someone who closely follows developments in public policy and health, I find these trends both fascinating and indicative of a new era in substance use and regulation.

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Robin Roy Krigslund-Hansen

Robin Roy Krigslund-Hansen

About the author:

Robin Roy Krigslund-Hansen is known for his extensive knowledge and expertise in the fields of CBD and hemp production. With a career spanning over a decade in the cannabis industry, he has dedicated his life to understanding the intricacies of these plants and their potential benefits to human health and the environment. Over the years, Robin has worked tirelessly to promote the full legalization of hemp in Europe. His fascination with the plant's versatility and potential for sustainable production led him to pursue a career in the field.

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