Problematic cannabis use declining in the wake of legal cannabis

Problematic cannabis use declining in the wake of legal cannabis

Here’s a fascinating piece of data from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Apparently, as cannabis use becomes legal across more of the US, “problematic use” is declining in people who are using cannabis every day.

Problematic use is defined for psychologists and drug abuse counselors as use that negatively affects a person’s life, like being unable to set limits on use, failure of major obligations (like family or career) due to the drug, and “continued use despite persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems.” In other words, if you’re using cannabis so much that your family, career, and life are declining in quality because of it, researchers would call that use problematic (and those are also signs of drug abuse). Just like other legal drugs like alcohol, if you can’t use cannabis responsibly, you shouldn’t use it at all.

But what researchers found in this study (which surveyed 22, 651 people and focused on participants who reported using cannabis at least 300 days during the past year) is that that type of use is declining — by up to 37.5% in adults age 26 and older, and at slightly smaller rates in younger users (the survey studied users as young as 12 years old, though of course even legal cannabis is never allowed for anyone under 21).

And why do researchers believe this pattern exists? Not necessarily because of anything to do with users or the drug, but because legalization is changing attitudes and risks around cannabis use. Because cannabis is becoming legal in more places, old attitudes around the drug are changing, and that, researchers say, is reducing the “social or interpersonal problems” associated with use of the drug. Legal access also allows for more forms of cannabis, and researchers say that people who might otherwise abuse cannabis now can use less potent forms or have more control over their doses.

In other words, that’s a huge win for legal cannabis. It turns out that many of the issues associated with the drug might be not because it’s the highly addictive drug that some fear (“cannabis is the only drug that reminds you to take a break from it,” an old stoner once told us), but instead that prohibition has caused interpersonal and legal problems that never needed to exist in the first place. As legalization continues to roll out around the country, researchers will continue to keep an eye on what issues are growing, or in this case, declining, because of the new laws in place.

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