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New research refutes ‘gateway drug’ fears over cannabis legalisation

Young adults consumed less alcohol, cigarettes and other substances following cannabis legalisation in Washington State.

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Adult-use cannabis has been legal in Washington State since 2012

Young adults consume less alcohol, cigarettes and other substances following cannabis legalisation, according to a new study.

A paper published earlier this month by researchers at the University of Washington, found that young people consumed less alcohol, nicotine, and non-prescribed pain medication, after cannabis was legalised for adult-use. 

Researchers assessed trends in alcohol, nicotine, and non-prescribed pain reliever use among a cohort of over 12,500 young adults (ages 18 to 25) in Washington State following legalisation in 2012.

Contrary to concerns about the detrimental effects on wider society, according to the study, “the implementation of legalised non-medical cannabis coincided with decreases in alcohol and cigarette use and pain reliever misuse.”

The findings show that prevalence of alcohol use, heavy episodic drinking and cigarette use in the past month, as well as prevalence of past-year pain reliever misuse decreased. 

While the prevalence of substance use other than cannabis was “higher among occasional and frequent cannabis users compared to cannabis non-users”, associations between cannabis and pain reliever misuse and heavy episodic drinking “weakened over time”. 

However the team did find that the prevalence of past-month e-cigarette use had increased post-legalisation.

They concluded: “Our findings add to evidence that the legalisation of non-medical cannabis has not led to dramatic increases in the use of alcohol, cigarettes, and non-prescribed opioids.

“The findings indicate that the most critical public health concerns surrounding cannabis legalisation and the evolution of legalised cannabis markets may be specific to cannabis use and related consequences.”

Commenting on the study’s findings, NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Real-world data from legalisation states disputes longstanding claims that cannabis is some sort of ‘gateway’ substance. In fact, in many instances, cannabis regulation is associated with the decreased use of other substances, including many prescription medications.”

Cannabis legalisation in the UK

Cannabis legalisation is a hot topic in the UK at the moment, following London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s fact-finding trip to LA last week. He subsequently announced that he would be launching a review panel to explore the possibility of decriminalisation in the UK. 

This has sparked debate among politicians, media personalities and the general public alike. 

While Home Secretary Priti Patel shared her thoughts that cannabis can “ruin communities, tear apart families and destroy lives”, Policing Minister Kit Malthouse described it as an “entry level drug”. 

And even Labour refused to get behind Khan, saying the party “does not support changing the law on drugs.”

But recent polling suggests the politicians may be out of touch with the public. YouGov polls show that more than half of Londoners support the mayor’s proposals. 

Meanwhile a poll last year revealed that 52 per cent of the population either ‘strongly supported’ or  ‘tended to support’ legalisation. 

 

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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister title and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email sarah@prohibitionpartners.com / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag

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