Marijuana use in the States has been steadily on the rise for over a decade. With the COVID-19 pandemic leaving large swaths of Americans anxiety-ridden and homebound, many dispensaries have seen massive upticks in sales. It makes sense that people are turning to cannabis to help cope with these difficult times, but according to a new study, this is hardly a novel phenomenon.
To help policymakers be more informed, a recent study out of Harvard set out to analyze the changes in cannabis use nationwide. Researchers examined data from before and after the majority of states adopted legislation legalizing at least some form of cannabis.
The study, authored by William Mitchell, Roma Bhatia, and Nazlee Zebardast, used data collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2005 to 2018.
The survey measured three subcategories of marijuana use:
- Lifetime use
- First-time use before the age of eighteen
- Use in the last year
The NHANES is a biennial survey that is weighted to represent the entire US population. Participants range in age from 18 to 69. A total of 3,512 adults were surveyed in the seven cycles examined in this study. Those who partake in the survey are given a physical examination as well as an interview that includes a drug-use questionnaire.
Researchers discovered some interesting things about America’s marijuana habits.
First of all, the data showed that the amount of people who have used cannabis sometime in their life has hardly changed in the last 14 years. In 2005, 61.5 percent of participants reported having at least one marijuana experience in their lifetime. In 2018, that figure was 60.9 percent. In the five cycles in between, the data never varied more than four percentage points.
Similarly, the seven cycles showed very little difference in the prevalence of cannabis use before the age of eighteen. The lowest figure reported was 59.6 percent in 2005, and the highest was 62.7 percent in 2009, making for a range of only 3.1 percent.
The big variance that the study found was in the prevalence of people who reported using marijuana in the last year. Of Americans surveyed by the NHANES, 19.1 percent described having used cannabis in the last year in 2005. Compare that number to 2018, where 29.1 percent of those surveyed reported consuming marijuana in the last year. The 10 percent range is by far the largest in the study, and the prevalence steadily increases throughout every iteration of the survey, unlike the other two measured two outcomes.
What Does it Mean?
Since state-level legislation to end marijuana prohibition has become more common, so has marijuana use. The findings are not exceptionally surprising—legalization makes cannabis more accessible through legal dispensaries and removes the barrier of potential criminal repercussions that may have otherwise dissuaded potential users. With more people consuming marijuana, there has never been a better time to invest in the cannabis industry.
Even though more people are accessing cannabis in legal markets, the use among minors has not increased the way proponents of prohibition argued it would.