State laws legalizing marijuana could have the “unintended consequence” of making more young adults and men abuse alcohol, according to a new health study that finds a link between them.
Three public health economists published the study Friday in JAMA Health Forum. Among 4.2 million Americans who completed national behavioral risk surveys from 2010 to 2019, alcohol use increased by 3.7% for young adults ages 18-24 in states that decriminalized recreational cannabis.
Among men living in 10 states and the District of Columbia where recreational marijuana was legal by 2019, alcohol use increased by 1.4%. Binge drinking spiked by about 1% among both men and young adults.
“Co-use of cannabis and alcohol may increase the probability of unsafe driving, beyond the risk associated with consuming either substance alone,” the study warns. “In addition, co-use also has been associated with increased impulsivity, which may give rise to potentially dangerous behaviors.”
Analyzing the survey data from June 2021 to March 2022, the researchers found drinking increased by 2% among Black Americans and by 1.4% among those without a college education.
“Overall, our study suggests that state policymakers have to monitor these increases in alcohol use as it may have considerable health care costs,” said Rahi Abouk, a professor at William Paterson University who co-wrote the study.
Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine said the study shows the need for new public health structures to mitigate “dire outcomes” as more states consider legalizing marijuana.
“For example, we should have more mental health services ready to help people if they wish to break addictions to cannabis or alcohol,” Dr. Galiatsatos said.