Research

Prevalence, Demographics, Use Patterns, and Health Indicators of U.S. Cannabis Consumers

October 2, 2022 08:30 am ET
Prevalence, Demographics, Use Patterns, and Health Indicators of U.S. Cannabis Consumers

For many people, cannabis has become the vice of choice- leaving behind alcohol and other illicit substances. Which makes sense when one considers what cannabis has to offer therapeutically and recreationally without much risk to health as other substances. Instead of unwinding from a hectic day with bottles of beer, for example, people are choosing cannabis for the calming, uplifting and ‘high’ benefits.

In light of the increasing cannabis-only consumption, researchers Beatriz Carlini and Gillian Schauer wanted to estimate the prevalence and explore the “demographic characteristics, cannabis use behaviors, and self-reported health of US adults with past 30-day cannabis-only use,” when compared to those who consume cannabis and other substances. That being said, let’s explore what was found in their recent research paper on the matter. 

The Methodology

The research duo analyzed data from adults over the age of 18 years, who responded to the 2017/2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Of the participants with those criteria, the team selected the data from those who reported having consumed, or used, cannabis in the past 30-days- which came to around 12,143 individuals- which is a significant participant size and should, as such, be representative of the larger cannabis consuming community.  

The participants whose data would be included in their research were categorized into two groups; one group which was considered ‘cannabis-only’ and another which was called ‘cannabis use with other substances’. As their names suggest, the cannabis-only group referred to those who consumed no other substances (i.e alcohol, illicit drugs, pain medication, tranquilizers, stimulates, sedatives or tobacco) other than cannabis during the past 30-days. Meanwhile, the other group refers to those who have consumed cannabis but have also consumed any of the other aforementioned substances within the past 30-days.

Other information which was included in their data analysis includes the age in which they first consumed cannabis, the frequency of their cannabis use during the past 30 days, whether there were any past year cannabis use which was recommended by a physician as well as any past year cannabis dependence- which included tolerance, ability to limit use, ability to stop or cut down, continued use despite problems and reduced participation in activities. Lastly, aspects such as sex, race, eductaion, income, overall health, past year mental illness, health insurance coverage, etc was included as well. 

The Findings

This study is among the first to have assessed the prevalence of past 30-day cannabis-only consumption among American adults as well as comparing that to the likes of past 30-day cannabis use along with consuming other substances. The study has a good sample size which means it should be reflective of the greater cannabis community as well as having two groups (the focus- and the control- group) to compare with one another, further strengthening their findings. So, let’s see what they found…

Prevalence

The researchers found that those who were aged between 18 and 25 years had the highest prevalence of cannabis use compared to any other age group- this includes being the age group with the highest prevalence of cannabis-only consumption as well as being the age group with the highest prevalence of cannabis and other substance use. The specific prevalence concerning past 30-day consumption, or use, is as follows:

Prevalence of Cannabis-Only Use Prevalence of Cannabis and Other Substance Use
2.0% of 18-25 year olds 20.2% of 18-25 year olds
0.7% of 26-49 year olds 11.5% of 26-49 year olds
0.6% of 50 year olds and older 4.3% of 50 year olds and older

 

As you can see by the prevalence data, the 18-25 year olds may have the highest prevalence in both categories, but overall, all of the participants are consuming cannabis as well as other substances. While the cannabis-only consumer population is growing, it still has a ways to go before surpassing the group consuming cannabis and other substances. 

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Demographics

Most of the data from participants across all the age groups and the two categories displayed that the dominant gender of cannabis use during the last 30 days were males. The researchers explain that those who only consume cannabis were predominantly non-Hispanic blacks when compared to those who consume cannabis and other substances.

This demographics data indicates that non-Hispanic blacks are the majority in the group which only consumes cannabis and that males made up the majority in both categories. Understanding demographic data is important in order to analyze characteristics about each age group and the two categories since it can be useful in understanding trends and use patterns. 

Use Patterns and Health Indicators

Use patterns refer to the repeated, regular consumption or use of cannabis and other substances. The researchers found the following use patterns:

  • A larger portion of the 18-25 year olds who only consume cannabis began to consume cannabis at, or after, the age of 16 when compared to the same age group which consumes cannabis and other substances. 
  • Those in the 18-25 year old group had the highest prevalence of using cannabis when compared to the other age groups. 
  • Those who are 50 years old or older had the highest prevalence of daily or near daily cannabis use when compared to the other age groups. 
  • A lower portion of those with cannabis and other substance use of all ages had their cannabis recommended by a doctor. 
  • Past year dependence was highest among those aged 18-25. 
  • Dependence was lowest in the 50 years of age and older group. 
  • The health status declined by age among both categories. 
  • Prevalence of any mental illness was similar across both categories and all age groups. 
  • A higher portion of the 18-25 year olds who consume cannabis and other substances had more occurrences of any mental illness when compared to the age groups’ population which only consumed cannabis. 

Interestingly enough, the eldest age group (aged 50 and older), consumed cannabis more regularly but did not have as high prevalence of cannabis dependance such as the 18-25 year old group had. It would be logical to assume that the most frequent users would have the most dependent on cannabis but surprisingly, that is not the case. Perhaps potency and quantity has a role to play but the researchers did not make connections between these patterns and those aspects- so it would be unwise to assume. 

Additionally, these use patterns indicate that there is minimal difference between either category (those who consume only cannabis and those who consume cannabis and other substances) in terms of health status and mental illness. However, those who are aged 18-25 which consume cannabis and other substances did have a higher prevalence of mental illness when compared to their age groups’ portion which only consume cannabis- which should serve as a warning to limit substance combination. 

Lastly, the researchers found that those who did not have their cannabis use recommended by a healthcare professional had higher odds of reporting cannabis-only use and that there is no significant correlation between dependence, any mental illness and past month cannabis-only use. They also found that college graduates had higher odds of consuming cannabis only when compared to those who have high school education, or equivalent. 

Final Thoughts

The researchers state that the main takeaway from this study should be that most adults in America use cannabis along with other psychotropic and potentially addictive substances. There is only a small portion of adults which only consume cannabis- which the researchers explain could be related to the fact that individuals use cannabis to quit or decrease use of other substances. For the moment, cannabis only use is most likely among younger adults but this may change in years to come as cannabis continues to gain acceptance and find its place in society. 

It would make sense that those who consume cannabis without a medical professionals recommendation would do so in combination with other substances but they are actually the ones who form most of the cannabis-only use population. However, this could be the result of those having been recommended cannabis by a medical profession also having to consume other pharmaceuticals (pain medication, stimulates, sedatives, etc) in order to deal with their condition. 

There is no doubt that the cannabis-only use population will continue to grow as people put aside their preconceived notions about the plant which has been ingrained by them through generations of propaganda and stimaga against cannabis. Those who are only consuming cannabis as a vice, or therapeutic substance, can tell you that there really is no need for other substances- especially when the alternatives to cannabis are more risky, and far more deadly. 

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