University Students Smoke More and More Marijuana in Legalized States, but Binge Drink Less

It's predominantly undergraduate students who smoke the most pot.
Fabienne Lang

Place your beer down and pass the joint around. That may be a regular sentence in any of the universities based in states that have legalized the use of marijuana. 

A study by Oregon State University (OSU) has discovered that undergraduate students aged 18 to 26 are smoking more and more marijuana in legalized states. In contrast, they're binge drinking less and less. 

The study was published on Monday in Addiction


Legal vs. illegal

The OSU research team used data from seven states and 135 universities where marijuana is legalized, and from 41 states and 454 universities where it isn't legalized. Over 850,000 anonymous students from these universities took part in the study.

The study discovered that students in the states where marijuana is legalized were 18% more likely to have used the drug in the past month, and 17% of them were more likely to have done so 20 out of 30 days, than their contemporaries in non-legalized states. 

Moreover, these numbers increased as time went on. After six years of legalization, the percentage jumped up to 46% more likely to have smoked in the previous month. 

What's interesting is that as smoking numbers increased, binge drinking numbers decreased. Binge drinking is considered five or more drinks in one sitting. 

Furthermore, the study noted that the effect was higher in older students, between 21 and 26 years old, than minors between 18 and 20 years old

Typically, around 21 years old, students pick up drinking and drop smoking. This was clearly not the case in the legalized states. 

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"In most states, once you reach 21, a barrier that was in the way of using alcohol is gone, while it’s intact for marijuana use. But when marijuana is legal, this dynamic is changed," said Zoe Alley, an OSU doctoral candidate and author of a companion study.

"For marijuana, we saw state-specific increases that went beyond the nationwide increases, whereas binge drinking was the opposite: a greater decrease in the context of nationwide decreases," Alley continued.

The researchers acknowledged that further research had to be done, as they were surprised by their findings. 

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