Popularity of Marijuana as Compared to Alcohol Use

By Romelo Wilson

For almost two decades now, more young adults have been abstaining from alcohol, and instead, smoking marijuana.

From 2002 to 2012, the study led by the University of Michigan and Texas State University found that the percentage of college students refraining from drinking alcohol jumped from 20% to 28%. Alongside, the rate jumped 6% for young adults, ages 18 to 22, who weren’t in college. This increase in those choosing not to drink also led to alcohol abuse being cut by almost half of what it was in 2002. However, it was difficult for the researchers who conducted to study to find out exactly what’s steering the demographic away.

Some may say that there’s a bit of social pressure to drink when students are going to college and that they feel more inclined to drink when they’re with friends or in a group setting.

 “Sometimes I feel left out at parties because everyone’s drinking,” said Avianna Gonzalez, senior political science major at The University of Tampa. In certain situations, it may be considered peer pressure, but in others it can also be students just wanting to take part in the “fun” that they’re surrounded by.

Many also say that they simply prefer the “high” feeling rather than being drunk. 

“Drinking makes me feel shitty and every time I drink I blackout, but with smoking I can just chill and laugh,” said a UT female senior who requested to remain anonymous. 

Healthline writes that both have similar short-term effects as far as impairing cognitive abilities, but alcohol is more likely to leave the person feeling worse the next day. In general, Healthline also mentioned that weed tends to have fewer health risks than alcohol, and more young adults are realizing that.

The study also found that those that do drink are also more likely to co-use and smoke weed. Researchers also found the increase from 20% to 26% in the rate of young adults that co-use both, to be concerning. 

According to the study, co-using can lead to more negative consequences and make it harder to treat addiction in the long run; and can steer the person into prescription and illicit drug use. Some students say that they’re only more likely to smoke after they’ve had a few drinks. 

“It’s just like a little oral fixation thing, I guess,” said Ian Bushnell, junior business major. “When I’m sober, I don’t feel the need to smoke as much.”

Another reason the marijuana usage has gone up, is due to the gradual legalization of both recreational and medical use across the country. Cannabis use in Washington State, since it became allowed in 2012, has increased as adults 18 to 24 years of age lead the way. The assessment conducted by the Washington State Department of Health found that the older you were the less likely you were to smoke marijuana. The minimum age to use is 21, but there are teens and others under the age requirement that anonymously admit to smoking.

With the introduction of the coronavirus into the lives of Americans, more people confess to using cannabis due to the rise in anxiety and stress, according to Forbes. The unemployment rate has greatly increased in the country, people are at risk of eviction, and some are experiencing what’s called “quarantine fatigue.” 

People started to look for something to help them mellow out and cope with a stressful situation. Medical cannabis users with mental health conditions such as depression and suicidal thoughts increased their average use by 91% since the pandemic began, as reported by the Journal of Addictive Diseases.

Dispensaries across the U.S. have reported an increase in sales since March. Antonia Hitchens wrote an article for The New Yorker, talking about how many L.A. residents “found it crucial in coping with the pandemic” to the point where it’s a daily routine. They find it as a fun way to pass time while quarantining.  

Getting access to marijuana is difficult for states where it’s both recreationally and medicinally illegal, like Alabama. In Florida, marijuana use is medically permitted to those ages 21 and older. However, as of February, it’s been decriminalized in Hillsborough County. According to the new law, those who are caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana will receive a civil citation rather than a misdemeanor charge.  

At UT, drug law referrals have jumped from 168 in 2017 to 280 in 2019, according to the Campus Crime Statistics report, despite becoming a “smoke and tobacco free” campus as of 2016. “It may be difficult to make any assumptions that one is related to the other,” said Samuel Ponce, assistant director of Campus Safety. Drug referrals, which encompasses any controlled drug or narcotic substance, have been inconsistent for the past 4 years. It’s hard to say that there’s been an increase in weed infractions specifically.

There are many medical dispensaries around the area and more in the process of being built. As mentioned by the Tampa Bay Times article, “In 2016, 71% of Florida voters opted to legalize medical marijuana on a constitutional amendment”, more people are becoming open to cannabis use as more research finds out the truth about its impact. The reason that the stigma surrounding the plant was so negative in the past was because of the lack of knowledge.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that marijuana has been used to treat nausea for cancer patients, increase appetite for patients with AIDS, treat bodily pains, and much more. However, it’s not the most relied-on prescription from doctors because research is still in the process. Society has become more aware about the truth behind marijuana use, but there are still negative impacts, especially for teens.

Studies of the last two decades by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that teen marijuana users, who are one of the age groups that use the most, are negatively affecting their education and social life when using. Of course, it depends on how often they smoke or consume marijuana, but it can impact the development of their brains at such a crucial time in their lives. For adults, it’s harder to see the long term effects.

Millennials have been more open to marijuana compared to those before them, and if the trend continues, generations to follow may be completely open to the idea of weed.  Alcohol has had an interesting history in the country, as far as the Prohibition and age requirements. Many people used it as coping mechanisms for their problems. Recently, with the introduction to marijuana, people are finding alternatives to their mechanisms, along with the medical benefits it can provide.

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