More People Are Consuming Cannabis During COVID-19

Cannabis sales are going up, medicinal marijuana prescriptions are increasing, and self-reported cannabis consumption rates are spiking – all during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we discussed last week, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been surprisingly beneficial to the global cannabis industry. Canadian and American cannabis dispensaries have seen increases in sales during the lockdowns, and Australia has hit a recordhigh number of SAS-B portal approvals for medicinal cannabis medicines.

Oregon Marijuana Tax Receipts
Oregon Marijuana Tax Receipts

Now, new data is emerging highlighting these increases in cannabis consumption in greater detail.

After analyzing over 1 million Reddit threads, American Marijuana discovered that cannabis-related threads received a boost in engagement that coincided with COVID-19 spikes and their accompanying lockdowns.

Additionally, as COVID-19 cases began to decrease in April and May, Reddit threads relating to quitting cannabis increased by 28.22%. This suggests that some of the recent increase in cannabis use may be related to heightened anxiety or fears surrounding stockpiling, and once those fears dissipate, many people wanted to reduce their consumption.

Putting aside heightened anxiety, these increases in cannabis consumption amid COVID-19 make sense when one considers the context in which certain drugs are used. The substances that saw a decline in discussion activity on Reddit, such as MDMA, Stimulants and Cocaine, are notably more prevalent at public events, many of which have been cancelled due to COVID-19. Comparably, substances which are more frequently consumed at home saw an increase, such as cannabis, alcohol and hallucinogens, which falls in line with other self-reports.

These increases in cannabis use were reiterated by UNSW's National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, who found that two in five people reported they were using more cannabis than before COVID-19. Moreover, increases in cannabis use largely fell along generational lines, with 40% of millennials indicating they planned to consume more cannabis during COVID-19, compared with 17% of baby boomers.

Is the Increase in Cannabis Use Permanent?

The biggest question surrounding these increases in cannabis use during the COVID-19 pandemic is whether this behaviour will continue once the lockdowns subside. As discussed, it's likely that two of the biggest reasons behind the rise in cannabis consumption are the ongoing lockdowns, which prompt people to shift toward drugs that are consumed at home, and heightened anxiety which can exacerbate drug use generally.

For this reason, one can assume that cannabis consumption will inevitably decrease once the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic subsides, as the general anxiety surrounding the virus dissipates and lockdowns cease.

However, cannabis use rates may not necessarily decrease entirely to pre-COVID-19 levels. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, when talking about medicinal cannabis, an increase in prescriptions can mean two things; either patients are requesting cannabinoid medicines more frequently, or doctors are recommending them more often. The increased dependence upon cannabis to alleviate symptoms such as anxiety only serves to reaffirm cannabis's legitimacy as a medicine and will help to reduce the stigma surrounding the plant. These are benefits that will help to instil greater levels of consumer confidence in cannabinoid medicines moving forward.

Secondly, the increase in cannabis dispensary sales can be explained in part due to an increased shift from the cannabis black market to the cannabis legal market. As we've discussed previously, cannabis dispensaries began utilizing delivery services and curbside pick-up in order to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 spread. This may have made it easier for many people to access recreational cannabis products than through an illegal dealer, who likely wouldn't be as diligent with social distancing and hygiene measures as a regulated dispensary would.

As consumer patterns have been increasingly gravitating toward the legal market, it's likely that many consumers will simply continue choosing this route and ditch their dealers. This is a trend that's already been seen in places where cannabis is made legal, in which the black market is gradually abandoned in exchange for legal, higher-quality options at dispensaries.

Lastly, this growth in the cannabis industry during the COVID-19 pandemic will serve as a powerful case for those voting on a cannabis legalization ballot, in ArizonaNew JerseyNew Mexico, and New Zealand at some point later this year. If the current strength of the cannabis industry is leveraged in order to enact legislative changes, this will undoubtedly lead to a growth in sales and patient numbers.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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