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Daily alcohol, cannabis use on the rise in Minnesota

Advocates for marijuana legal reform listen to music while attending the first annual National Cannabis Festival April 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. The festival was created for proponents of legalization to celebrate the partial legalization of marijuana in the nation’s capital and states around the nation. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

By Christopher Ingraham, Minnesota Reformer

A recent study published in the journal Addiction found that for the first time, daily marijuana users outnumber daily alcohol drinkers in the United States. 

Public health experts are keeping a close eye on the trend, as daily marijuana users are at higher risk of suffering negative health effects like heavy vomiting episodes, cardiovascular disease, dependency and psychosis. 

Marijuana use is on the rise in Minnesota too, a Reformer analysis of federal data shows. The share of Minnesotans over age 12 reporting they used marijuana in the past month rose from 7.7% in 2017 to 15.4% in 2022. Monthly alcohol use fell modestly over that same period.

Daily marijuana use — defined as using the drug on 20 or more of the past 30 days — increased from 2.9% to 5.9% over the same period. But daily marijuana users in Minnesota are still vastly outnumbered by daily drinkers, who comprised roughly 12% of the population in 2022.

Some caution is warranted with these numbers. They’re from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a long-running federal project considered the gold standard survey of American substance use. But the survey methodology changed in 2020 to accommodate pandemic restrictions, which makes it harder to compare numbers on either side of that year.

The pandemic also brought sharp increases in drug and alcohol use. It remains to be seen whether those numbers will remain elevated or revert back to pre-pandemic averages.

Still, multiple data sources show that marijuana use is on the upswing nationally as laws change and attitudes liberalize. Minnesota’s data also show use rates climbing prior to the pandemic, another indicator that the observed spike in 2022 is reflecting real-world behavior.

Nationally, those increases seem to be concentrated among older, rather than younger users. “Marijuana is becoming something of an old person’s drug,” as researchers Jonathan Caulkins and Keith Humphreys recently wrote. “As a group, 35-49-year-olds consume more than 26-34-year-olds, who account for a larger share of the market than 18-25-year-olds.”

That’s a somewhat reassuring development, as researchers believe young peoples’ brains are more susceptible to the negative effects of drug use than older peoples.

One area of concern for public health experts is that daily use is much more common among cannabis consumers than alcohol drinkers. Slightly more than half of Minnesotans drink alcohol on a monthly basis, and roughly 20% of those monthly consumers have a drink nearly every day.

Whereas Minnesota’s monthly marijuana users comprise only 15% of the population, but nearly 40% of them use marijuana 20 days or more in a given month.

While it draws less scrutiny than marijuana use, Minnesota’s rate of frequent drinking is also an area of concern, particularly if daily drinking is on the rise as the data suggest. The latest research on drinking finds that there’s no “safe” level of alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a carcinogen directly responsible for over 1,000 deaths in Minnesota each year and indirectly implicated in many more.

If some of Minnesota’s drinkers were to switch to cannabis it could be a net benefit to public health, given the greater risks associated with daily alcohol use.

But so far the signs on that front are mixed: While the share of Minnesotans drinking monthly has declined modestly, the rate of daily alcohol use has risen in tandem with the increase in heavy marijuana use.

The data suggest, for instance, that tens of thousands of Minnesotans now use both alcohol and cannabis on a daily basis, which greatly increases their risk of addiction and health problems.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor J. Patrick Coolican for questions: Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.