Study: 19 optimal minimum legal age for non-medical cannabis use. Also study: respondents may not have accurately recalled the age at which they first used cannabis.

May 29, 2020

Breaking with conventional wisdom laid out by Her Majesty the Queen only a few years ago, a team of researchers at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, announced some excellent news for cannabis lovers earlier this month. According to a study published in BMC Public Health, researchers found that not only can the age for cannabis use be lowered, but that 19 is the optimal minimum legal age for non-medical cannabis use. 

However, tucked away towards the end of the study, researchers noted that results were based on self-reported data, adding the caveat, “respondents may not have accurately recalled the age at which they first used cannabis.” So there’s also a slight chance the results might be complete bullshit.

But whatever makes for a good headline. 

Assuming that the study does have some merit, and the naysayers have had it all wrong, then it’s time to let the college kids have some fun.

The study, led by Dr. Hai Nguyen, sought to discover how Canadian cannabis users of different ages excelled across various markers throughout their life. Participant outcomes that were reviewed included educational attainment, cigarette smoking, self-reported general, and mental health.

"Prior to legalization, the medical community recommended a minimum legal age of 21 or 25 for non-medical cannabis use in Canada,” said Dr. Hai Nguyen in a statement. “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," he continued.

Numerous studies have argued that the legal minimum age for cannabis sales should be as high as 25. A report from Health Canada written a few years ago noted that younger cannabis users could face several dangers if they start smoking cannabis at a younger age.

“You are more likely to experience harm from cannabis because your brain is still developing until around the age of 25.2,” noted the Health Canada report in 2018.

“Shortly after using cannabis, you may have problems paying attention, remembering or learning things, and making decisions,” it continued. “Some of these effects may persist for some time after you stop completely or never fully go away depending on how young you were when you started, how often and for how long you have been using it.”

The BMC study had some impressive outcomes, though, as with everything, researchers caution that their findings do require further investigation. For example, they found that respondents who started using cannabis at age 18 generally had better health than those who began before 18. At the same time, there was no difference if people started at later ages.

Outcomes were similar for smokers, as those who first used cannabis at around 18 and older were less likely to smoke nicotine later in life.

“The lower level of completed education reported in those who first used cannabis at an earlier age may reflect poor neurological development or a higher 'drop-out' rate from further education,” said Dr. Nguyen in a statement, referring to another of the study’s outcomes. “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."

In the end, researchers found themselves disagreeing with previous studies.

"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,” said Dr. Nguyen in a statement. “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."

But again, remember, there’s also a chance that study respondents don’t even know if their answers were correct. So take it all with a grain of salt.

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