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Cannabis Use Rises Through the Calendar Year, But Dips for Dry January, Study Finds

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Jan 21, 2021   
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The average cannabis consumer partakes more as the year goes on, according to a new study.

Researchers from New York University found that relative usage rates of cannabis were up 13 percent at the end of each year compared to the first quarter. This growth trend was seen across the vast majority of demographics, even when factoring in for the overall year-on-year increases in cannabis consumption across the timeframe of the study.

The NYU scientists say this finding could help inform drug researchers studying the prevalence of cannabis use, and those trying to cut down on cannabis consumption.

Relative cannabis use increases 13 percent as the year progresses

The prevalence of cannabis use worldwide has been rising year-on-year. The 2019 World Drug Report from the United Nations claims that the number of annual cannabis users has increased by 30 percent globally over the past two decades. The 2020 version of the report even noted a particular increase in recreational use and within the youth demographic.

So, annually, cannabis consumption is on the up. But what happens during the year? In this new study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the NYU researchers studied data from over 280,000 respondents to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2015 to 2019 to investigate whether there are any real seasonal variations in cannabis consumption, or if cannabis use is just experiencing a slow and steady rise.

“We found that marijuana use is consistently higher among those surveyed later in the year, peaking during late fall or early winter before dropping at the beginning of the following year. We think this may be due, in part, to a ‘Dry January’ in which some people stop drinking alcohol or even stop using marijuana as part of a New Year’s resolution,” Joseph Palamar, PhD, an associate professor of population health at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “We’re now in the time of year when people are the least likely to use marijuana.”

This rise through the calendar year and subsequent dip as the New Year begins was repeated in each of the years covered by the researchers’ data set. Overall, 8.9 percent of those surveyed between January and March reported some form of past-month cannabis use compared to 10.1 percent in the final quarter of the year – a 13 percent relative increase.

Teen cannabis use peaks in the summer, prevention efforts should note

Palamar and his colleagues say that the seasonal cannabis trends remained even accounting for the annual growth in overall consumption. The trends were seen in nearly all demographic groups surveyed, regardless of factors like age and gender.

The one notable exception to this seasonal ebb and flow pattern was the teenage demographic; instead of consumption peaking at the end of the year, cannabis use among teens was highest in the summer, before declining in the fall. The researchers theorize that this might be down to more social events taking place in the summer, which might encourage drug use among the younger demographics.

For the other ages, the researchers believe that cannabis consumption begins to fall off in the new year for a number of reasons, including lower supply due to the cannabis harvest schedule, colder weather stopping many casual users from smoking outdoors, or people quitting cannabis use as a new year’s resolution.

“Ultimately, we hope that these findings can be utilized by researchers and clinicians alike,” said study coauthor Austin Le, a research associate at NYU Langone Health.

“Researchers studying marijuana use should consider seasonal variation, as surveys administered at the end of the year may yield different results than at the beginning of the year. And for those who wish to reduce marijuana use, it appears the best time for such targeting may be later in the year – when use is highest.”


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