Study: Daily or Near-Daily Cannabis Users Outnumber Alcohol Users of Same Frequency

A new analysis found that there were approximately 3 million more daily or near-daily cannabis users than daily or near-daily drinkers as of 2022.

By
Keegan Williams

The rising prominence of regular cannabis use over alcohol use is nothing new. 

We’ve witnessed myriad research in recent years showing that states with legal recreational cannabis see decreases in alcohol use, that Gen Z tends to prefer cannabis over alcohol and other reports noting that cannabis has consistently generated more tax revenue than alcohol and cigarettes in states like Colorado and Washington

So it’s not necessarily a surprise that, for the first time, the number of Americans who use cannabis on a daily, or near-daily, basis has eclipsed those who drink alcohol at the same frequency. Associated Press first reported on the recent analysis of national survey data, finding that an estimated 17.7 million people reported daily or near-daily cannabis use, compared to 14.7 million daily or near-daily American drinkers.

For comparison, 1992 was the low point for daily cannabis use as less than 1 million people at the time said they used cannabis every day.

Daily Use Among 40% of Cannabis Consumers

According to study author Jonathan Caulkins, who researches cannabis policy at Carnegie Mellon University, alcohol is still more widely used, but 2022 was the first time that the level of cannabis use overtook daily or near-daily drinking.

“A good 40% of current cannabis users are using it daily or near daily, a pattern that is more associated with tobacco use than typical alcohol use,” Caulkins said.

Caulkins’ study, titled “Changes in self-reported cannabis use in the United States from 1979 to 2022,” is based on data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and published in the journal Addiction on Wednesday. It notes that there was a 15-fold increase in the per capita rate of reporting daily or near-daily cannabis use from 1992 to 2022, whereas the 1992 survey found 10 times as many daily or near-daily alcohol users compared to cannabis users.

Reflecting alcohol as the more commonly used substance, the study notes that the median drinker reported alcohol use on four to five days in the past month, versus 15 to 16 days of past-month use for cannabis users. Past-month cannabis consumers were almost four times as likely to report daily or near-daily use and 7.4 times more likely to report daily use, according to the study.

A Decades-Long Journey for Cannabis

Of course, this trend is no accident. It’s the product of gradual policy changes, advocacy and broader education surrounding the true nature of cannabis use and cannabis consumers following decades of skewed propaganda and harsh criminalization.

The study notes four major periods of cannabis policy fluctuation in the U.S., starting with liberalization in the ‘70s as 11 states decriminalized or reduced cannabis-related penalties. This is alongside the Shafer Commission report, which countered the popular notion that cannabis users were dangerous, concluding that users tend to be more passive and cannabis does not cause widespread danger to society. It also recommended social measures to curb usage rather than criminalization.

The more conservative policies of the 1980s and early ‘90s followed, with President Reagan and Bush Sr.’s now somewhat infamous War on Drugs in full force. The third major period outlined by the study spans 1993 to 2008, a period of “state-led liberalization” underscored by an increasing recognition of medical cannabis contrary to federal policy.

Finally, we witness the period of “explicit non-interference by the federal government” starting in 2009, with Deputy Attorney General David Ogden’s memo prompting American attorneys not to focus “federal resources in your states on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

Just a few years later, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize adult-use cannabis.

“There were myriad other changes at the local, state and federal level in both law and policy,” the study notes. “Change has been continual, so these epochs are just signposts, not the only moments of change.”

Weighing Impacts of Daily Cannabis Use Over Daily Alcohol Use

For those who have tried cannabis and who use it routinely, this information may not come as much of a surprise. American attitudes around cannabis have shifted, with the majority routinely sharing they consider cannabis as a safer alternative that alcohol and cigarettes.

Research is also increasingly finding a lack of “hangover” effects in cannabis users, showing no evidence of next-day effects following THC consumption. This, of course, acts in stark contrast to alcohol use, so those who use cannabis frequently arguably have fewer obstacles to navigate surrounding general day-to-day functions. In addition, research is increasingly finding that even chronic pot use has minimal effects on motivation.

Regular cannabis use isn’t without its faults. The Associated Press report includes the perspective of University of Maryland School of Medicine psychiatry professor Dr. David A. Gorelick, who notes that high-frequency cannabis users are more likely to become addicted to cannabis. Gorelick was not involved in the original study.

Some studies have also pointed to increased risk in heart problems among heavy cannabis users (though other studies have suggested the opposite). 

There’s also been a recent influx in studies suggesting that cannabis use, especially surrounding high-potency products, produces greater risk in developing psychosis. While substance abuse disorders indeed carry psychiatric comorbidities, there is limited evidence surrounding how this relationship translates to the general population and how much substance use disorders are driven by such comorbidities. 

A number of studies have combated that narrative with advocates often arguing that touting this relationship between cannabis use and psychosis is simply the newest iteration of “reefer madness” of past years.

Of course, more research is needed to fully determine the health impacts of regular cannabis use — something that the upcoming Schedule III status of cannabis will likely aid in. 

That said, regular alcohol use is known to affect how the brain works over time, damage the heart, increase risk of stroke and high blood pressure and weaken the immune system, leaving people more susceptible to illness. There’s also the toll it takes on the liver and pancreas and its potential to cause several types of cancer.

While cannabis may not be perfect, even your standard “recreational” user is likely to cite a number of medical-specific benefits they enjoy from their use. Many regular cannabis users utilize it as a means to better wellness or to usher in specific symptom relief while also helping to provide a sense of ease and escape from their struggles. 

All to say, research like this often affirms what those in the cannabis community have been saying for years. Perhaps society is finally beginning to catch up.

Keegan Williams

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