Emerging adult perceptions of cannabis consumption: Examining changes in perceptions from pre-legalization to post-legalization

Int J Drug Policy. 2023 Sep 14;120:104193. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2023.104193. Online ahead of print.


Background: Emerging adults (EAs) have the highest rates of cannabis consumption in Canada and are vulnerable to the potential impacts of frequent cannabis consumption. This study assessed EAs' perceived risk of cannabis consumption across multiple domains of potential harm based on the age (14-year-old, 21-year-old, or 28-year-old) and sex (male or female) of the vignette character, time-point (pre- or post-legalization), and participant's gender.

Methods: Secondary analyses were conducted on data from a pre-legalization study and post-legalization replication. Participants included EAs between 18 and 25 years of age and living in Newfoundland and Labrador. Participants from the pre- and post-legalization studies were matched based on demographic variables and the assigned vignette character. Participants responded to seven items of perceived risk based on their assigned vignette character's (varied by age or sex) almost daily cannabis consumption.

Results: Participants (N = 689) viewed cannabis consumption to have greater risks for a 14-year-old compared to a 21- or 28-year-old in all domains except for social life. Prior to legalization, participants who identified as a woman felt that cannabis had more detrimental impacts on social life than participants who identified as a man. Findings also suggested that pre-legalization cannabis consumption by a female was perceived as more detrimental to their social life than pre-legalization consumption by a male and post-legalization consumption by a female.

Conclusion: EAs do not fully appreciate the risks of cannabis consumption, suggesting that it is imperative for public health strategies to promote increased awareness of the risks of frequent cannabis consumption, and improve cannabis health literacy in this population.

Keywords: Cannabis; Emerging adults; Gender; Health attitudes; Legalization; Perceptions.