Could cannabis end up being a gateway drug for cigarettes?
Possibly, said researchers from Columbia University, who found that adults who use pot daily do not perceive smoking a pack a day as being as harmful as those who do not use pot do.
"In the context of recent findings that perception of risk plays a key role in predicting substance use, and that perception of risk associated with cannabis use has declined steadily along with legalization, these findings were somewhat of a surprise," said lead researcher Renee Goodwin. She's a professor in the department of epidemiology at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health.
In the study, Goodwin and colleagues used data from over 21,000 adults in the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
About 62% of adults who use pot daily perceived pack-a-day cigarette use to be of "great" risk to health, while 73% of those who did not use cannabis in the past year had that same perception.
"Tobacco control has done a tremendous job in public education on the physical health risks associated with tobacco use, and cigarette smoking in particular, over the past several decades," Goodwin said in a university news release.
Still, her past research has found that cigarette use is much more common among those who use cannabis.
"We wondered why that might be. Our findings suggest that diminished risk perception of pack-a-day cigarette use might be one contributing factor," Goodwin said.
She also addressed recent Canadian research on legalized cannabis and packaging. In Canada, marijuana has been legal on the national level since 2018.
"Data from Canada suggests that plain packaging is one measure that can maximize the safe and effective rollout of cannabis legalization that ensures and protects the health, safety and well-being of all members of our community," Goodwin said.
"Enacting legislation on the local and state level that reduces the appeal of cannabis products to youth vis-a-vis prohibiting product packaging that mimics foods and candies that are traditionally marketed to children [e.g., Pop-Tarts, Oreos] may reduce potential unintended harms to the most vulnerable members of our community via accidental ingestion/poisonings, which have exploded in number in recent years in the U.S., with child and adolescent intentional use of these products," Goodwin suggested.
The findings were published Aug. 3 in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more on cigarette smoking and other tobacco use.
SOURCE: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, news release, Aug. 3, 2022