Is legalization of recreational cannabis associated with levels of use and cannabis use disorder among youth in the United States? A rapid systematic review

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2024 Mar;33(3):701-723. doi: 10.1007/s00787-022-01994-9. Epub 2022 May 4.


Cannabis legalization policies are rapidly changing in the United States. While there are concerns that recreational legalization will negatively affect young people, previous reviews have not provided clear indication of such effects. The purpose of this rapid systematic review was to examine whether recreational legalization was associated with increases in prevalence of cannabis use and use disorder among adolescents and young adults. PubMed/MEDLINE, Embase, Scopus, PsycInfo, Web of Science, Dissertations & Theses Global, the Trip Database, and OpenGrey were searched from date of inception through Marcy 17, 2022 to retrieve all relevant records. English language and human subject filters were applied. Two reviewers screened abstracts and titles, assessed full text articles, and coded the final included articles. Studies including primarily 10- to 19-year-olds were classified as adolescent, and those between 18 and 26 years as young adult. Our search identified 33 research reports (22 with adolescent samples; 14 young adult). For adolescents, ten studies reported no change in use prevalence associated with legalization, six reported a decrease, and seven reported an increase. Among young adults, most studies (8) showed an increase in at least one prevalence measure, four showed no change, and one showed a decrease. Only two adolescent and one young adult study examined cannabis use disorder, both adolescent studies showed an increase, and the young adult showed no change. The majority of studies had risk of bias. Recreational legalization may be associated with increases in prevalence of cannabis use in young adults while results for adolescents are mixed. Policymakers and practitioners should consider appropriate prevention and treatment options for young people.Trial Registration: PROSPERO #CRD42021276984.

Keywords: Adolescent; Cannabis policy; Cannabis use; Cannabis use disorder; Recreational cannabis legalization; Young adult; Youth.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cannabis*
  • Humans
  • Legislation, Drug
  • Marijuana Abuse*
  • Substance-Related Disorders*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult