Cannabis and Alcohol Use by U.S. Young Adults, 2008–2019: Changes in Prevalence After Recreational Cannabis Legalization

David C.R. Kerr, Natalie S. Levy, Harold Bae, Anne E. Boustead, Silvia S. Martins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Introduction: Young adults’ cannabis and alcohol use patterns have changed after state recreational cannabis legalization according to studies based on college samples but not nationally representative samples. Associations between recreational cannabis legalization and changes in cannabis and alcohol use outcomes among young adults were examined, including differences by college enrollment and minor status (ages 18–20 vs 21–23 years). Methods: Repeated cross-sectional data (2008–2019) were collected from college-eligible participants aged 18–23 years in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Self-reported past-month cannabis use and frequent use (≥20 days) and a proxy for past-year DSM-5 cannabis use disorder were primary outcomes; past-month frequent alcohol use and binge drinking were secondary outcomes. Multilevel logistic regression models quantified changes in outcome prevalence from the study years before to after recreational cannabis legalization, adjusting for secular trends. Analyses were conducted on March 22, 2022. Results: Prevalence increased from before to after recreational cannabis legalization for past-month cannabis use (from 21% to 25%) and past-year proxy cannabis use disorder (from 11% to 13%); the increases were statistically significant [adjusted odds ratio (95% CI) = 1.20 (1.08–1.32) and 1.14 (1.003–1.30), respectively]. Increases were detected for young adults who were not in college and who were aged 21–23 years. Recreational cannabis legalization impacts were not detected for secondary outcomes. Conclusions: Some young adults appear sensitive to state recreational cannabis legalization, including in terms of cannabis use disorder risk. Additional prevention efforts should be directed to young adults who are not in college and timed to occur before age 21 years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)983-992
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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