The ideal minimum age to start smoking weed without messing up your brain for later in life is 19, according to a new Canadian study.
Finding the ‘right’ legal minimum age to start smoking cannabis has been a contentious issue for many years, with the legal age varying wildly between states and countries.
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The study, published in BMC Public Health on Wednesday, compared the educational attainment, cigarette smoking, self-reported general and mental health outcomes across four different age groups for first-time cannabis use (under 18, 18, 19–20 and 21–24).
The results of this comparison are interesting and worthy of a discussion, at the very least.
Educational attainment (that’s the highest level of education) was 16% higher for people who started using cannabis between the ages of 21-24 compared to people who started before age 18.
The study also found that cigarette use “among those who first used cannabis at age 19–20 was 34% lower compared with the 28% prevalence of cigarette smoking among those who first used cannabis before 18.”
The differences in general and mental health were pretty small at only “3, 2 and 4% higher among those first used cannabis at age 18, 19–20 and 21–24, respectively, relative to those who first used it before age 18.“
In the US, recreational cannabis advocates often argue that cannabis should be treated like alcohol and since 21 is the legal age to drink in most states (actually, 21 is the legal age to purchase alcohol and many US states allow drinking at a much lower age in family settings, but let’s not get into that) that number is also being applied to states where recreational cannabis is legal.
In Canada, where the study was carried out, the legal age to smoke weed varies between 18 and 21, depending on the province. Uruguay, the first country to legalize recreational cannabis, set the legal minimum age at 18, the same age as in the Netherlands.
You’ve probably heard, in some form or another, the popular neuroscience myth that the human brain and psyche settles in at age 25, which is why you shouldn’t try psychedelics or other drugs before then. That claim has since been debunked, but that same number has also been cited by many medical professionals advocating for a legal minimum age for cannabis in the mid-20s.
These findings are consistent with the latest Canadian study that found that if people start smoking weed at 19-years-old, they typically avoid the potential pitfalls that THC could inflict on a young brain.
“Several later life outcomes from starting cannabis use at age 19 are not different than starting at or after age 21,” Hai Nyugen, a health economist at the University of Newfoundland and the lead author on the study, told Inverse.
While the study only looked at numbers from Canadian cannabis users, it makes a pretty strong point for allowing legal recreational cannabis use at age 19.
If you don’t live in Canada, where the minimum age is less than 21 in all provinces except Quebec, don’t get your hopes up just yet. US cannabis advocates still have their hands full with getting weed legalized on a federal level, and before that happens, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see a minimum legal age for weed lower than alcohol.