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Cannabis Use Has Risen With Legalization and COVID-19 Lockdowns

July 29, 2022 08:00 am ET
Cannabis Use Has Risen With Legalization and COVID-19 Lockdowns

A new report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) suggests that cannabis consumption levels soared amid COVID-19 lockdowns and wide-ranging legalization. The findings were published in the organization’s annual World Drug Report.

“Cannabis legalization appears to have accelerated the upwards trends in reported daily use of the drug,” reads an excerpt from the Vienna-headquartered office’s report. Although cannabis consumption rates were generally much higher among teenagers, the findings indicated that there has been “a pronounced increase in reported frequent use of high-potency products among young adults.”

Cannabis has long been acknowledged as the most widely used illicit drug in the world. Widespread legislation across the United States has further bulked up the 48 million-strong consumer demographic. So far, 19 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam have legalized cannabis for recreational purposes.

Key Takeaways from the UNODC’s Annual World Drug Report

When social distancing-style lockdowns were implemented across the U.S. in 2020—a tactic that was introduced in the hopes of preventing the coronavirus from spreading—cannabis retail stores saw an uptick in sales volume.

“Periods of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic drove increases in the use of cannabis in 2020,” reads the 2022 report, which highlighted how approximately 284 million people (equivalent to 5.6% of the world’s population) had consumed illegal drugs like amphetamines, cocaine, ecstasy, or heroin. Of those people, 209 million also used cannabis.

The reporters noted that cocaine production skyrocketed in 2020. After analyzing 2021 seizure data, the UNODC also observed a potential increase in cocaine production and trafficking beyond the two biggest markets of Europe and North America into Africa and Asia.

Another key takeaway from the UNODC’s annual World Drug Report was that opioids remain the most lethal type of drug. In fact, overdose-related deaths across the nation are largely stimulated by fentanyl, with 107,622 people dying as a result of fentanyl overdoses last year.

Cannabis and Mental Health: Correlation or Causation?

Cannabis is touted as a complementary treatment for multiple mental conditions, but some evidence raises the question of whether heavy cannabis use can actually hurt mental health. As per the UNODC’s report, “The proportion of people with psychiatric disorders and suicides associated with regular cannabis use has increased.”

This discovery is sure to raise concern and somewhat shake up the legal cannabis industry. Don’t be alarmed yet, though—the UNODC’s finding is simply a correlation. COVID-related fearmongering and long periods of isolation could also be to blame for the sharp uptick in psychiatric disorders and suicides, with many people being unable to function normally or visit their loved ones during the pandemic.

Plus, the findings of a recent UNM study, titled “Cannabis Consumption and Prosociality,” found that healthy young adults with recent cannabis exposure exhibited higher levels of prosocial behaviors and a heightened sense of empathy than those who had not consumed cannabis. Numerous other studies have also supported cannabis’ ability to alleviate, not worsen, mental conditions.

Cannabis Presents Promise for Economic Recovery After COVID-19

Some places on the world map are beginning to rely on cannabis as a way of strengthening the economy. Thailand is a prime example, with decriminalization recently being implemented as part of the Southeast Asian country’s COVID-19 economic recovery strategy.

Considering the sheer value of many state-legal cannabis markets, the money-making potential of legalization efforts cannot be ignored. For example, New Mexico generated $22.1 million in legal cannabis sales revenue during the first month of legal adult-use sales.

With analysts predicting that the U.S. cannabis market will top $33 billion in revenue this year, it’s safe to say that cannabis’ lucrative appeal hasn’t been dampened by the coronavirus crisis. Other countries should be keeping a close eye on places with legal cannabis laws since there may be something to learn in terms of rebuilding local economies following a health-related glut.

Cannabis Could Help to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 

While we are on the subject of cannabis use amid COVID-19 lockdowns, it’s worth mentioning that cannabis may help to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2).

This is according to a study that was published in the journal Science Advances. Titled, “Cannabidiol inhibits SARS-CoV-2 replication through induction of the host ER stress and innate immune responses,” the study showed that cannabidiol (CBD) successfully inhibited infection of SARS-CoV-2 in cells and mice.

Another recent study, titled “Cannabinoids Block Cellular Entry of SARS-CoV-2 and the Emerging Variants,” discovered that cannabinoids—the active compounds in cannabis—have the potential to prevent and treat COVID-19. This area of research is still preliminary, but the medical community is hopeful that further promising findings will come to light.

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