Should 19 Be the Legal Age for Non-Medical Cannabis Use?

A recent study by BMC Health feels it should.

Really fast, think! How old were you when you almost coughed up a lung trying a joint for the first time? And how do you function now? Like a bawse I bet, you kief chief, you.

When it comes to issues requiring the legalization of anything, age is more than a number- it’s the precedent. It’s the mark that society deems acceptable to partake in mood-altering vices. For some, cannabis has been a lifestyle since high school and for others the medicinal botanical only became clutch at a later age. Nonetheless, as it’s holistic effects are being explored, the long-lasting impact cannabis has on an individual are also in question, prompting many to decide on an appropriate age to consume. According to BMC Public Health, the issue is not only contentious but critical.

To investigate how cannabis consumption can impact a person’s health and habits later on in life, a group of researchers at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada did a few studies. They found that the minimum legal age (MLA) should be 19, as it could prevent negative mental health outcomes and smoking tobacco.

The study used waves from both the Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Surveys (CTUMS) conducted between 2004 and 2012 and the Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey (CTADS) conducted in 2013 and 2015 from a sample pool of 20,000 individuals aged 15 years and older, according to Medical Xpress.

Why this study? The lead author Dr. Hai Nguyen said,

Prior to legalisation, the medical community recommended a minimum legal age of 21 or 25 for non-medical cannabis use in Canada. This recommendation was based on scientific evidence around the potential adverse impacts of cannabis on cognitive development. However, policymakers feared a high minimum legal age may lead to large underground markets, with those under the legal age continuing to use cannabis illegally. Ultimately, a lower legal age of 18 or 19 was decided across provinces, however there remains ongoing debate and calls to raise the legal age to 21.

Dr. Hai Nguyen

It became apparent in the study that those who consumed cannabis at 19 or 20 were less likely to pick up that nasty narcotics habit later on in life than 18-year-olds. Since there was no difference for those who began to consume after 19, the ideal MLA is 19.

The minimum legal age varies depending on the outcome of interest. When screened to see the effects on education, 16% of people who began consuming between 21-24 completed a high level of education. That’s much higher than those who reported use before celebrating their 18th birthday making 21 the suggested optimal MLA. To this Dr. Nguyen added,

It is also possible that those who initiate cannabis use early may use it as a gateway for further illicit drug use, resulting in poorer health in later life, which may explain the poor general or mental health scores recorded in the study.”

Dr. Nguyen

Stay in school, kids. And finally when it comes to general health, the study showed there was no significant difference in people who started before and after 18 years old. However the mental health outcome was higher in those 19-20 than those 18, making 19 the MLA.

In conclusion, Dr. Nguyen stated,

“Taking into account all measured outcomes, our results indicate that, contrary to the Canadian federal government’s recommendation of 18 and the medical community’s support for 21 or 25, 19 is the optimal minimum legal age for non-medical cannabis use. Keeping the legal age below 21 may strike a balance between potential increases in underground markets and illegal use, and avoiding the adverse outcomes associated with starting to use cannabis at an earlier age.”

Dr. Nguyen

It’s worth mentioning that the study was taken prior to the legalization of medical cannabis in Canada and some participants may not have accurately remembered when they first consumed as it is self-reported. Further research is needed to determine the precise effects cannabis has on individuals and the outcomes measured in the study along with additional focus on outcomes relating to driving behaviors and street drug use.

The bottom line is, we need more. We need more research and more funding to conduct these studies. Surely the results will reveal a lot more in favor of holistic benefits.

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