A new study published in the journal Addiction on Aug. 24 analyzed cannabis consumption data across the nation, with a specific focus on adult identical twins. Called “Impacts of recreational cannabis legalization on cannabis use: a longitudinal discordant twin study,” the study used twins to explore the frequency of cannabis across two different states.

“In this study, we evaluated the effects of recreational cannabis legalization in a large sample of prospectively assessed adult twins from similar cohorts of individuals born in Colorado and Minnesota, demographically similar states with different cannabis policies,” the researchers presented in their introduction. “While many participants still reside in their birth states, some participants have migrated to other states resulting in pairs discordant for exposure to recreational legalization.”

Researchers reviewed data from either the Minnesota Center for Twin Family Research or the University of Colorado, Boulder Center for Antisocial Drug Dependence, with a total of 3,452 individuals (split between 1,700 individuals from Minnesota and 1,752 from Colorado). All individuals had previously been asked about their cannabis use before and after 2014, when the state of Colorado legalized recreational cannabis, and Minnesota legalized medical cannabis. Of this number, there was a split among different types of twins: monozygotic (363 pairs), same-sex dizygotic (208) pairs and opposite-sex dizygotic (129 pairs).

The researchers concluded that in 111 pairs of twins, there were no genetic influences that led to cannabis consumption frequency, however they did confirm that “Existing genetic influences were moderated by the legal environment, as the genetic correlation between marijuana use before and after legalization was lower in states that legalized compared with states that did not.”

“Using a longitudinal design accounting for age, sex and earlier cannabis use, we found a ~24% increase in mean cannabis use frequency attributable to legalization,” researchers explained. “Furthermore, co-twin control results indicate that within monozygotic pairs, the twin living in a legal state uses cannabis ~20% more frequently than their illegally residing co-twin.”

However, the researchers also noted that nearly 92% of participants were white and projected how the inclusion of more non-white participants could alter the results. “An important extension of our work would be to investigate individual differences in the context of cannabis policy with respect to sex or racial background. Prior to recreational legalization, black Americans disproportionately bore the consequences of cannabis law enforcement,” researchers wrote. “Racial disparities in pre-legalization enforcement could mean that the legalization-related environmental changes experienced by black Americans were more dramatic than those experienced by their white counterparts, but we are not able to address this issue effectively in these samples.”

In their conclusion, researchers stated that this particular topic could use more elaboration to further understand how cannabis may have affected people in other states. “Through the use of zygosity-stratified co-twin control analyses, we found a ~20% increase in cannabis use frequency, consistent with a causal effect of recreational legalization,” they wrote. “These results do not, by themselves, demonstrate how more frequent use in legal states translates to changes in health or behavioral consequences, therefore future work is necessary to further address complex questions around the public health impacts of legalization and vulnerability to widely available marijuana.”

On Aug. 24, a new study from the National Institutes of Health found that consumption of cannabis and hallucinogens is at an all-time high for individuals between the ages of 19-30. Researchers said that consumption in this age group has “increased significantly in 2021 compared to five and 10 years ago,” and is the highest level of consumption since 1988.

National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow said in an accompanying statement that this research is crucial to understanding the long-term effects of cannabis on youth. “As the drug landscape shifts over time, this data provides a window into the substances and patterns of use favored by young adults. We need to know more about how young adults are using drugs like marijuana and hallucinogens, and the health effects that result from consuming different potencies and forms of these substances,” Volkow said. “Young adults are in a critical life stage and honing their ability to make informed choices. Understanding how substance use can impact the formative choices in young adulthood is critical to help position the new generations for success.”

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