Study: Using Marijuana Could Turn You Into a Heavy Drinker

Source: Dmitry_Tishchenko / Getty Images

It is often said that marijuana is healthier than alcohol. A 2018 study, for instance, found that alcohol use can change brain structure, while marijuana has no apparent long-term effects on the brain.

Does that mean that people will start consuming less alcohol and enjoying marijuana more often, as it becomes more readily available legally in various forms? It’s certainly true that Canadian marijuana use jumped even more than expected after legalization.

You might think so, but apparently not. A new study by researchers at Penn State University has found that people are not necessarily drinking less alcohol — and that those who use alcohol and marijuana at the same time are likely to drink more heavily and more often than those who only drink alcohol.

The study, “Simultaneous Use of Alcohol and Marijuana: Patterns and Individual Differences,” was published last month in the journal Substance Use & Misuse. Researchers recruited an analytic sample of 1,017 young adults from 49 states, aged 18 to 25, who had used alcohol within the previous month. Some had used both alcohol and marijuana. Subjects were 67.8% male and 71.5% Caucasian, and 71.5% had attended at least some college.

SAM (simultaneous alcohol and marijuana) users reported heavier and more frequent drinking than those who didn’t use marijuana. This might be one of the reasons why Americans are drinking and buying more wine, beer, and liquor. These are the cities that spend the most on alcohol.

The study was also found that SAM users were more likely to have alcohol-related problems, such as blacking out or doing things impulsively while under the influence that they later regretted.

“It is clear,” notes the study, “that SAM users are a vulnerable sub-population of young adult drinkers….Prevention and intervention efforts targeting high-risk drinking may benefit from also assessing whether they simultaneously use alcohol and marijuana.”

The U.S. market for legal cannabis products is forecast to grow from $8.5 billion in 2017 to $23.4 billion by 2021. Some businesses are better positioned to take advantage of the coming boom than others — these are the 10 largest marijuana companies.