Researchers at Columbia University just published a study showing that while cannabis use has increased, the number of people who have been diagnosed with cannabis use disorder has stayed steady.
The peer-reviewed study was published in Addiction and looked closely at states with medical and recreational cannabis legislation. The authors noted that the differences between each state-level cannabis legislation affect enrollment rates, with some programs that allow for many different qualifying conditions and others limiting their programs to a few conditions. They also factored in historical rates of cannabis use.
Current cannabis users were grouped into one of three categories: those who have used cannabis within the last 30 days, or “active,” those who use cannabis more than 300 days per year, or “heavy” users, and those who have been diagnosed with cannabis use disorder.
The data revealed that “active’ cannabis users 26 years-old and older increased by 1.46 percent, and skewed towards heavy use by 2.36 percent after medical cannabis legislation had passed.
The study also shows that there was no increase in overall cannabis use among adults. In other words, the people who were already using cannabis continued to do so, but there was no increase in the number of people who use cannabis.
One of the greatest concerns about cannabis legalization is increased use among children and teens. The study showed that there was no increase in cannabis use in those under 18, no matter how strict or lax the cannabis laws were in various states. The results of this research back up other studies regarding cannabis use among teens. After Colorado legalized recreational cannabis, teen use actually decreased.
Cannabis addiction treatment rate remains steady
In terms of addiction, the study did not see an increase in cannabis use disorder, and other research data suggests the number of people seeking treatment for cannabis addiction is steady. Data from the National Institute of Health (NIH) indicates that about 9 percent of cannabis users become addicted, but the study from Columbia University also shows that the number of users isn’t increasing after legalization. Another survey looked specifically at Oregon, Washington and Colorado and did not see a significant increase in cannabis users, but did note that cannabis use has gradually been increasing since 2000, long before these states had any sort of cannabis legislation.
That gradual increase may have a connection to support for cannabis legalization and/or cannabis reform. Last year, a Gallup poll reported 60 percent of Americans now support cannabis legalization. Gallup was able to chart the increase in cannabis legalization support. In 1969, cannabis legalization was supported by 12 percent, and increased to 31 percent in 2000.
Looking at data that shows no increase in cannabis use after a state has legalized it, combined with a huge increase in support for cannabis legalization, illustrates the difference between those who are in favor of using cannabis legally versus those who support legalizing for the purposes of decriminalizing it. Lawmakers who are in favor of cannabis decriminalization are often labeled as “pro-cannabis” and in support of legalization. This distinction is important as state legislatures and local governments refine and reform their cannabis policies.