Marijuana use prevalence higher among adults with disabilities compared to those without disabilities, study finds

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A new study led by Associate Professor of Health Administration and Policy Gilbert Gimm found that the likelihood of past-month marijuana use among adults varies by type of disability and is higher in states with legalized medical marijuana.

In the last two decades, support among American adults for marijuana (cannabis) for medical and recreational use has grown. In 2020, 60% of U.S. adults were in favor of legalizing cannabis for both medical and recreational use. However, little research has been conducted on marijuana use among adults with disabilities.

Gilbert Gimm

American adults (18-64 years) with disabilities had a higher prevalence of past-month marijuana use (16.6% vs. 10.9%) compared to those without disabilities, a new study led by Associate Professor of Health Administration and Policy Gilbert Gimm found.

“These findings can help to inform policy and public health surveillance of marijuana use in the U.S. Given the recent legalization of medical and recreational marijuana use in the Virginia, more longitudinal studies on marijuana use in adults, especially among those with disabilities, are needed to understand the long-term effects of policy changes on marijuana use and health outcomes among youth and young adults,” said Gimm.

This is the first study to examine the association between disability type and marijuana use among U.S. adults between 2015 and 2019. Specifically, it found that adults with a vision disability, cognitive disability, or multiple disabilities had higher odds of marijuana use compared to those without disabilities. Additionally, living in a state with legalized medical marijuana increased the odds of marijuana use.

“Our findings can also be used to inform the development of tailored interventions for adults with disabilities who are at risk of cannabis use disorder,” said Gimm. Cannabis use disorder occurs when a person is unable to stop using marijuana even though it is causing health and social problems in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Researchers used data from the 2015-2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in a sample of 195,130 working-age adults to conduct descriptive and multivariable logistic regression analyses to assess the prevalence and risk factors associated with marijuana use among adults by disability status and type. Based on six NSDUH questions, disability types were categorized as hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care, or independent living. 16.3% of participants identified as having one or more disabilities.

Tarang Parekh, who recently completed the Mason PhD program in Health Services Research, and Panagiota Kitsantas, professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at Mason, are co-authors of the study. Assessing the prevalence and risk factors of marijuana use in adults with disabilities was published online in Addictive Behaviors in December 2022.