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Users of cannabis for therapeutic purposes more likely to use nicotine products, Rutgers study says

Individuals who use cannabis products for therapeutic purposes (CTP) were found to be more likely to also use nicotine products than those who do not engage in CTP, according to a recent Rutgers study.
 – Photo by Roberto Valdivia / Unsplash

A recent Rutgers study has found that individuals who use cannabis products for therapeutic purposes (CTP) were more likely to also use nicotine products than those who do not engage in CTP.

The study specifically concluded that approximately 40 percent of CTP users also consume nicotine products, while only 14 percent of the adult population in the U.S. smoke cigarettes, and only 4.5 percent use e-cigarettes.

Marc L. Steinberg, director of the Tobacco Research & Intervention lab, an associate professor of psychiatry at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and contributor to the study, said these numbers indicate that twice as many CTP users consume tobacco products as compared to the general population. 

He said the study was conducted in a medical marijuana dispensary in New Jersey with patients who were interested in participating. 

According to the study, more than 700 patients aged 18 to 29 years old were surveyed out of an available population of 1,185 individuals with both physical and psychiatric conditions. Participants completed a digital survey.

Steinberg said that individuals that used both cannabis and nicotine products tended to consume them in the same way. For instance, people who used e-cigarettes were found to be four times more likely to ingest cannabis through vaping rather than smoking.

“This is important for dispensaries to know about because if vaping cannabis is a safer route of administration than smoking cannabis, and dispensaries are recommending vaping, rather than smoking, they should be aware that people who smoke cigarettes may be less open to their recommendation,” he said.

Encouraging individuals who smoke cannabis to ingest it through vaporization instead may require additional efforts, according to the study. Initiatives such as providing targeted information to cigarette users on the dangers of their current mode of consumption, as well as motivational interviewing, may be beneficial.

Researchers also observed the amount of motivation study participants had to quit smoking. While the study found that more than three-quarters of participants planned to quit smoking within half a year, it also said that those using CTP indicated both that they were more likely to consume nicotine products and exhibit more motivation to quit smoking.

This correlation may exist because those with psychiatric conditions may have received counseling on the relationship between tobacco use and their condition, which could have convinced them to quit, according to the study.

Steinberg said that these results contribute to public health in the U.S. by using medical cannabis dispensaries to project anti-smoking messages, given the health risks associated with smoking.

“If dispensary personnel know the cigarette smoking status of their patients, they can tailor messages to them to encourage them to use a non-combustible route of administration for cannabis,” he said.

The study said that medical cannabis dispensaries should also consider tobacco-control messaging such as telephone quitlines and other cessation services, efforts that can reduce health issues related to tobacco consumption and encourage safer methods of cannabis consumption.

Steinberg also spoke about the implications of cannabis usage for anxiety relief among college students. He said that while a large percentage of the study participants self-reported that they used cannabis to manage their anxiety, some evidence has indicated that the primary compound of cannabis can actually increase anxiety in an individual.

“It is also important to know that even if you feel that cannabis relaxes you, it should not be a substitute for going to therapy to learn skills to cope with anxiety,” he said. “Cognitive behavioral therapy is very effective for helping people with anxiety disorders.”

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