Search engine results suggest cannabis is lowering interest in alcohol, but not tobacco

Search engine results suggest cannabis is lowering interest in alcohol, but not tobacco

Researchers examining search results from “a leading US-based web portal” (almost certainly Google) say that the rising wave of marijuana legalization appears to be lowering general interest in alcohol, but not necessarily tobacco. The researchers used data from January 2014 to April 2017, consisting of 28 million searches and 120 million ad impressions, trying to see what people were searching for and how those searches changed over time.

They found that when marijuana is legalized, cannabis-related searches increased, by nearly 17 percent. At the same time, alcohol-related searches decreased by 11 percent, suggesting that people who searched online were thinking less about what to drink and more about how to get high. The findings were tobacco were even more interesting — during the same time period, tobacco searches increased by 8 percent. That suggests that a growth in cannabis smoking might not be as bad for the tobacco industry as presumed.

Now, there’s plenty of caveats here — just because people are searching for something doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re actually engaging in those actions (and in fact, it might mean exactly the opposite for all we know). The researchers also didn’t share their actual search terms, so it’s possible that there was overlap here (maybe people searching for rolling papers or vaporizers were actually searching for cannabis-related objects instead of tobacco-related objects, or vice versa). And of course this could just be connected to other trends entirely — just because alcohol searches drop and cannabis searches go up doesn’t necessarily mean the two are connected, or that one grew or fell as a result of the other.

So you can definitely take all of this information with a grain of salt. It should be fair to say, however, that cannabis legalization is definitely changing people’s interests, or at least piquing their curiosity when it comes to recreational substance use.

There’s one other interesting finding here to note as well: The researchers reported that while overall cannabis searches increased after legalization, young people actually searched less for cannabis online post-legalization. That finding connects with other surprising research that teen use of cannabis has actually decreased after legalization. If teen use is all about rebellion, maybe it’s not cool to use cannabis any more, once there aren’t any major legal consequences (most states who legalize still restrict use below the age of 21 anyway). Again, search terms aren’t a final source on an issue like this, of course, but it’s another interesting finding to add to the mix.

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