Research & Resources

Substance-Specific Risk Factors for Cannabis and Alcohol Use Among Young Adults Following Implementation of Nonmedical Cannabis Legalization

This study examined changes in cannabis- and alcohol-specific risk factors following legalization of nonmedical cannabis. Researchers analyzed 6 years of annual cross-sectional data (2014–2019) from 12,951 young adults ages 18–25 who resided in Washington state. Examined risk factors include perceiving that use was common among same-age peers, believing that use was acceptable, having easy access, and having low perceptions of physical or psychological harm from use. Logistic regression models estimated annual rates of increase across these risk factors. All cannabis-specific risk factors increased among those ages 21+, while significant increases in cannabis-related risk factors among those under age 21 was limited to perceptions of cannabis use being acceptable and low perceptions of physical harm from occasional use. Although descriptive norms for past-year use of alcohol among those ages 21+ increased, other risk factors for alcohol did not change significantly or actually decreased, as was the case with having low perceptions of physical and psychological harm, a risk factor that decreased among both age groups. Overall, the findings showed an increase in cannabis-specific risk factors since nonmedical legalization was implemented, particularly among young adults ages 21+. Researchers proposed that preventive interventions correcting risk misperceptions and related risk factors among young adults ages 21+ could potentially reduce use and its negative consequences.

This paper, “Substance-specific risk factors for cannabis and alcohol use among young adults following implementation of nonmedical cannabis legalization,” was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and published in the journal Prevention science.

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