More Young People Switch from Pot to Booze at Age 21, Study Finds

By May Wilkerson 07/10/15

The trend was significantly more pronounced with women compared to men.

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Many young people switch from pot to booze once they’re legal to drink, according to a new study.

Published in the Journal of Health Economics, the study found an unsurprising spike in alcohol use among young people who recently turned 21. But it also found a decrease in pot use among this age group, suggesting that people are replacing one substance with another.

The findings could impact the debate about how to regulate marijuana, as more states legalize it for medical or recreational use.

Researchers found that the probability of a person having consumed alcohol in the past 30 days increased by about 16% when they turned 21, whereas the probability that they used marijuana decreased by 10% at the same time.

This trend was more pronounced among women than men. Although men used pot and booze at higher rates than women, their marijuana use decreased at 7.5% after turning 21, compared to a 15% decrease for women.

Since legality seems to raise the likelihood of people using a substance, how these substances are regulated should really depend on the harms associated with each, said Ben Crost, a co-author of the study and a professor at the University of Illinois.

"If you think alcohol is much more harmful to people's health, then you should probably restrict alcohol use," he said. "If you think marijuana is more harmful, then you might want to consider loosening the restrictions for alcohol."

Most Americans perceive alcohol as significantly more dangerous than pot, according to public opinion polls. Numerous studies have confirmed this opinion, showing that alcohol use is responsible for greater damage to individuals and the general public. 

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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