How The U.S. Can Help Shape SA
A couple of recent studies have looked at how legal cannabis has impacted on the lives of university students. These studies have shown that an increase in cannabis consumption has massive potential to reduce binge drinking.
As the start of a whole new decade comes and goes, we can look back at the landscape of cannabis. South Africa experienced decriminalisation not even two years ago. We now have legal CBD too. Since these developments in the legislature, we have seen massive growth in the cannabis community. More social media groups and pages are popping up, with more and more people opening up about their cannabis use. Cannabis expos are experiencing record numbers of attendees, and investors are looking to get involved in the cultivation of cannabis.
A good example of what South Africa might eventually experience in terms of cannabis is the United States. 33 states have legalised the medical use of cannabis, while 11 states have further allowed for adult recreational consumption.
The studies mentioned above were both conducted by the Oregon State University, where the recreational habits of these students were examined in places where recreational cannabis is allowed. One study noted that, in these states, more cannabis is being consumed by the learners; while the other study explores the impact of this rise in cannabis consumption and other popular recreational substances.
What does Legalisation mean for Cannabis Use?
The first study was conducted by Harold Bae and David Kerr. This is the first study to really examine the impact of legal cannabis in multiple states, with more than 850 000 students observed. These students self-reported their use of cannabis bi-yearly, taking part in a National College Health Assessment (NCHA) survey.
The researchers examined the feedback from these students, aged 18-26, who attended a university in any of the states who had legalised recreational consumption of cannabis by 2018, or the remaining states who had not yet legalised.
This further included 185 universities from legal states and 454 universities from illegal states. The research goes as far back as 2008, and continues up until 2018. Unsurprisingly, the research found that cannabis use increased with legalisation. In legal states, students were 18% more likely to have consumed marijuana in the last 30 days.
Those in legal states were also 17% more likely to be frequent users as opposed to casual or social users. ‘Frequent’ is defined as consuming 20 or more times in a 30 day period.
Seeing as the data goes back to 2008, researchers were able to identify some long term trends.
The data revealed that 6 years post-legalisation, learners were 46% more likely to have used cannabis than students living in illegal states.
Further research in the states, conducted by the Pew Research Center, indicates that only 32% of people in the U.S. believe cannabis should be legal for medical use, while only 8% believe it should be fully legal. Between 2012 and 2018, the use of cannabis climbed from 21% to 34% in legal states and from 14% to 17% in the other states.
When we look a little deeper, the data has shown that cannabis use is most prominent in the 21-26 year age group. It would further appear that consumption is higher amongst females and in students living off-campus.
Using the same data, researchers looked into the consumption of other recreational substances. More specifically, the effects of greater cannabis consumption on the use of other recreational substances.
In the same survey, students were able to submit information on the use of nicotine, binge drinking, other illegal drugs, abuse of prescription stimulants, sedatives and opioids. The research found that an increase in cannabis consumption had a minor impact on the consumption of other substances, with the only two exceptions being alcohol and sedative abuse.
These studies are far from over, and will likely continue for some decades to come. However, they offer valuable insight into the future of cannabis legalisation not only in America but in South Africa too. Although we have a vastly different culture, we would still be likely to see a drop in alcohol consumption with recreational cannabis consumption.