Nicholas looks into the emerging drug use trends since the pandemic began. As cannabis becomes more readily available, alcohol consumption is looking to take a hit as more and more people put down the bottle in favour of the plant.
When it comes to the discussion of drugs, addiction, risk of overdose or death, impaired driving, violence, and obesity, research indicates that cannabis may be less of a health risk than alcohol.
The pandemic has had a considerable effect on the habitual nature of people. Many were thrown out of their routines due to new remote working schedules while others now struggled with the realisation they could no longer go to their favourite retreatants or simply blow off steam on a night out. Many habits were disrupted which had a knock-on effect on the mindset of the individual. Some changed for the better, introducing 30 minutes of working out a day to keep the covid weight gain at bay while others have taken up new hobbies to fill the time usually spent outdoors socialising.
What the coronavirus has affected the most were the vices people use to reduce stress. In a survey conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of Curaleaf, a leading U.S provider of consumer cannabis products found that 42% of adults aged over 21 who have either never or rarely used cannabis have started or increased their consumption since the beginning of the lockdown. Conducted online in October of last year, with close to 2,000 respondents asked, the survey found the main factors people have chosen to start or increase their consumption since the pandemic began include:
- to reduce stress and anxiety (54%; women (64%) and men (47%))
- to relax (50%; women (50%) and men (49%))
- to help them sleep (48%; women (52%) and men (45%))
The rise in consumption is not limited to single people but rather parents of children under 18 as well. More than 52% of parents who have never consumed cannabis stated they have started or increased their cannabis consumption compared to 33% of those who are not parents of children under 18. The study found the parents of children were more likely to consume cannabis medicinally (58% vs 44%).
Another interesting finding was that parents of children have begun to reduce or flat out replace their alcohol intake with cannabis. Overall, adult cannabis consumers say they have reduced or replaced their alcohol consumption with cannabis while 33% of those who consume cannabis for adult use say they prefer cannabis to alcohol.
This survey comes at a time when the cannabis industry continues to grow while the stigmatisation weakens leading to a more accepted aspect of society. In another recent study commissioned by the Glass House Group, a California-based cannabis and hemp company, found that close to two-thirds of respondents planned to replace alcohol with cannabis over the holiday season, with 67% said this replacement would increase over the year compared to 2019.
This change in attitudes towards cannabis use demonstrates that its usage is not a fad or cultural trend but that it is becoming a mainstream choice for people of all ages and backgrounds. This can be considered a positive as the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention found in 2014, close to 90,000 alcohol-induced and drinking-related deaths occurred in the United States. A stark contrast to marijuana zero deaths according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Additionally, the American Journal of Public Health published a study that found healthy cannabis users were not more likely to die earlier than healthy people who did not consume cannabis.
For critics of the plant, findings were not welcomed as more studies are conducted on the drug due to the rise of cannabis legalisation. These studies explore the drug’s potential harms and benefits, and in 2017, the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado in Boulder published their findings on a study of the effects both alcohol and cannabis have on the brain. The study proved cannabis use had no impact on the structure of grey or white matter in the brain of 853 adult and 439 teenage respondents. However, researchers found that alcohol use was associated with a reduction in gray matter as well as a reduction in the integrity of white matter. 
“While marijuana may also have some negative consequences, it definitely is nowhere near the negative consequences of alcohol,” study co-author Kent Hutchison.
As cannabis remains illegal in most of the world, long-term studies on all of the plant’s health effects have been inadequate. More research will be needed to fully understand the benefits and risks of cannabis but as it stands, the contrast of health effects between alcohol and cannabis is night and day, and this will influence how people approach each drug in the future.