The line between whether cannabis legalization leads to lower or higher alcohol consumption, remains unclear, and more studies are needed as marijuana becomes more widely available legally in the United States, a team of researchers said.
The research examined alcohol and cannabis purchases in three states where recreational marijuana is legal — Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. While Washington saw an increase following such cannabis legalization in the purchase of spirits, Oregon experienced a “significant decrease in monthly spirits purchased” and Colorado households showed a 13% decrease in all alcohol purchases with a 6% decline in wine buying.
Such results, apart from the increase in the purchase of spirits seen in Washington, were described by the researchers overall as “largely non-significant” and “consistent with several prior studies that have examined alcohol-related outcomes and cannabis legalization. Results suggest that alcohol and cannabis are not clearly substitutes nor complements to one another,” the researchers concluded.
Nevertheless, more research and detail was needed to examine such possible links because of potential divergence between subgroup characteristics, for example a history of substance abuse or age differences.
Such further research could then help inform states considering cannabis legalization and what effects such permission may have unintentionally on the use of potentially harmful substances like alcohol, the research said.
“As cannabis becomes legalized and more widely available across the USA, there is a greater need to understand any unintentional consequences these policy changes may have for alcohol-related harms and public health problems more broadly,” the report concluded.
Alcohol remains a public health problem in the U.S., the researchers stated, increasing the risk of fatal road accidents, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
Drinking is on the rise in the U.S.,they added, both per capita and in a majority of states, analyzing data in the period 2003-2016.
“This trend in increased alcohol consumption raises concerns for alcohol-related morbidity and mortality.”