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Daily Marijuana Use In U.S. Is Now More Common Than Daily Alcohol Drinking, New Study Finds



More Americans now consume cannabis every day than drink alcohol on a daily basis, according to a newly published study that explores how marijuana use habits have changed in recent decades. Since 1992, it says, the per capita rate of daily cannabis consumption in the country has increased nearly 15 times over.

The rise in frequent cannabis use coincides with an increasing number of states that have ended marijuana prohibition, though the study’s author, Carnegie Mellon University professor Jonathan Caulkins, says it’s not clear whether legalization led to increased use or the whether broader consumption by the public boosted support for policy changes that were later enacted.

While report notes the national marijuana use rate “mirrors changes in policy, with declines during periods of greater restriction and growth during periods of policy liberalization,” Caulkins stops short of attributing use patterns to policy changes themselves.

The correlation between legalization and greater use “does not mean policy drove changes in use,” the report says. “Both could have been manifestations of changes in underlying culture and attitudes. However, whichever way causal arrows point, cannabis use now appears to be on a fundamentally different scale than it was before legalization.”

The rise in daily marijuana use comes after rates hit a record low in the early 1990s.

“Reported cannabis use declined to a nadir in 1992, with partial recovery through 2008, and substantial increases since then, particularly for measures of more intensive use,” the new research says. “From 1992 to 2022, there was a 15-fold increase in the per capita rate of reporting daily or near daily use.”

In 2022, for the first time ever, more Americans said they consumed cannabis on a near-daily basis than alcohol.

The findings draw on data from the federally funded National Survey on Drug Use and Health, previously known as the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. The survey has been conducted annually since 1990 and four times before then, in 1979, 1982, 1985 and 1988.

Responses show that while far more Americans drank alcohol daily than consumed cannabis 20 years ago, those use patterns have radically changed.

“Whereas the 1992 survey recorded 10 times as many daily or near daily alcohol as cannabis users (8.9 vs. 0.9M),” the study says, “the 2022 survey, for the first time, recorded more daily and near daily users of cannabis than alcohol (17.7 vs. 14.7M).”

The research was published on Wednesday in the journal Society for the Study of Addiction.

Caulkins acknowledges in the paper that some methodological changes have been made to the federal survey over the years—for example switching from a paper-based to a digital survey, making minor sampling changes and adding a $30 incentive payment for respondents—and admits the government typically advises against making comparisons between survey designs. But ultimately he argues his conclusions are valid.

“The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) discourages comparing rates of use before and after the redesigns,” he writes. “However, changes in survey wording or methods that make a 10% or 20% difference in responses are small compared to the much larger changes over the time span examined here.”

He also notes that changes in politics and social acceptability of marijuana use may have exaggerated the trend of increasing use.

“Of particular note, willingness to self-report may have increased as cannabis became normalized, so changes in actual use may be less pronounced than changes in reported use,” the study says. “On the other hand, cannabis product variety exploded after state-legalization.”

“Nonetheless, the enormous changes in rates of self reported cannabis use, particularly of DND [daily or near daily] use, suggest that changes in actual use have been considerable,” it continues, “and it is striking that high-frequency cannabis use is now more commonly reported than is high-frequency drinking.”

Speaking to the Associated Press about the report, Caulkins said that roughly 40 percent of consumers use marijuana on a daily or near daily basis, which he called “a pattern that is more associated with tobacco use than typical alcohol use.”

Writing in the Washington Monthly about his findings, Caulkins, joined by Stanford University professor Keith Humphries, argue that market forces have also led to significantly more powerful marijuana.

“Legalization and commercialization have produced a spectacular rise in the potency of marijuana products,” they wrote. “Until the end of the 20th century, the average potency of seized cannabis never exceeded 5 percent THC, its active intoxicant. Now, the labeled potency of ‘flower’ sold in state-licensed stores averages 20-25 percent THC. Extract-based products like vape oils and dabs routinely exceed 60 percent.”

“Back in the 1990s,” they add, “a person averaging two 0.5-gram joints of 4 percent THC weed per week was consuming about 5 milligrams of THC per day on average. Today’s daily users average more than 1.5 grams of material that is 20-25 percent THC, which is more than 300 milligrams per day. That is far more THC than is consumed in typical medical studies of its health effects.”

Caulkins and Humphries point out, however, that “marijuana is becoming something of an old person’s drug,” emphasizing that frequent cannabis use among youth is rare.

“On the positive side, the kids are mostly all right,” they said. “Just 2 percent of 12-17 year-old marijuana consumers consume daily or near daily. As a result, youth account for just 3 percent of the 8.3 billion annual days of self-reported marijuana use in the country.”

By age group, people aged 35 to 49 consumed more frequently than people 26 to 34, who themselves consumed more frequently than people from 18 to 25 years old.

Overlooking heavy, frequent and long-term use, say Caulkins and Humphries, increases the risk of harm to users’ memories, concentration and motivation. But the biggest risk, they warn, “may concern serious and lifelong conditions such as schizophrenia.”

“Regulators need to take seriously their responsibility to protect the public from cannabis companies,” they write, noting that the market isn’t led by a “hippy-led anti-materialist cottage industry” but is instead increasingly dominated by large corporate players.

“Cannabis isn’t fentanyl, but it isn’t lettuce, either,” the pair conclude in their Washington Monthly op-ed. “The vastly increased use of the drug is not all benign, and we may come to regret it if we fail to recognize and respond to these trends.”

While Caulkins’s new study doesn’t attempt to address whether people are actively substituting marijuana for alcohol, a study earlier this year out of Canada, where marijuana is federally legal, found that legalization was “associated with a decline in beer sales,” suggesting a substitution effect.

“Canada-wide beer sales fell by 96 hectoliters per 100,000 population immediately after non-medical cannabis legalization and by 4 hectoliters per 100,000 population each month thereafter for an average monthly reduction of 136 hectoliters per 100,000 population post-legalization,” found researchers from University of Manitoba, Memorial University of Newfoundland and University of Toronto.

Sales data also show that Canada generated more excise tax revenue from marijuana ($660 million) than wine ($205 million) and beer ($450 million) combined in the 2022–23 fiscal year, as MJBiz reported.

At the state level in the U.S., cannabis sales have also been outpacing booze in several legal jurisdictions.

For instance, Michigan marijuana sales outpaced purchases of beer, wine and liquor combined during the most recent fiscal year, according to a report from the legislature’s nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency.

In Illinois, legal cannabis brought in $451.9 million last fiscal year—about $135.6 million more than alcohol.

Colorado in 2022 generated more income from marijuana than alcohol or cigarettes—and nearly as much as alcohol and tobacco combined. Similar milestones have been seen in Arizona and Washington State.

A multinational investment bank said in a report late last year that marijuana has become a “formidable competitor” to alcohol, projecting that nearly 20 million more people will regularly consume cannabis over the next five years as booze loses a couple million drinkers. It also says marijuana sales are estimated to reach $37 billion in 2027 in the U.S. as more state markets come online.

A separate study published in November also found that marijuana legalization may be linked to a “substitution effect,” with young adults in California “significantly” reducing their use of alcohol and cigarettes after the cannabis reform was enacted.

Data from a Gallup survey published last August also found that Americans consider marijuana to be less harmful than alcohol, cigarettes, vapes and other tobacco products.

A survey released by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and Morning Consult last June also found that Americans consider marijuana to be significantly less dangerous than cigarettes, alcohol and opioids—and they say cannabis is less addictive than each of those substances, as well as technology.

In 2022, a survey showed that Americans believe that cannabis is less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco.

Cannabis Use Before Bedtime Does Not Cause Next-Day Impairment Of Cognitive Ability Or Driving Performance, Study Shows


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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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