Background: Alcohol and marijuana are among the most commonly used drugs by adolescents and young adults. The question of whether these two drugs are substitutes or complements has important implications for public policy and prevention strategies, especially as laws regarding the use of marijuana are rapidly changing.
Methods: Data were drawn from fatally injured drivers aged 16 to 25 who died within 1 h of the crash in nine states with high rates of toxicology testing based from 1999 to 2011 on the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (N = 7,191). Drug tests were performed using chromatography and radioimmunoassay techniques based on blood and/or urine specimens. Relative risk regression and Joinpoint permutation analysis were used.
Results: Overall, 50.5% of the drivers studied tested positive for alcohol or marijuana. Univariable relative risk modeling revealed that reaching the minimum legal drinking age was associated with a 14% increased risk of alcohol use (RR = 1.14, 95% CI: 1.02 to 1.28), a 24% decreased risk of marijuana use (RR = 0.76, 95% CI: 0.53 to 1.10), and a 22% increased risk of alcohol plus marijuana use (RR=1.22, 95% CI: 0.90 to 1.66). Joinpoint permutation analysis indicated that the prevalence of alcohol use by age is best described by two slopes, with a change at age 21. There was limited evidence for a change at age 21 for marijuana use.
Conclusions: These results suggest that among adolescents and young adults, increases in alcohol availability after reaching the MLDA have marginal effect on marijuana use.
Keywords: Alcohol; Complements; FARS; Marijuana; Minimum legal drinking age; Substitution.