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Generation Z Favours Weed Over Alcohol

Generation Z Favours Weed Over Alcohol

"Gen Z" is increasingly favouring cannabis over alcohol. According to a number of recent surveys, today's young adults are drinking less alcohol and consuming more cannabis, a trend that is likely to grow as legalization gains pace across the world.

Tiffany Kary, Bloomberg News

1 August 2022 at 22:00:00

The social lubricant is no longer a liquid

Gen Z, the meme-hungry, gender-fluid generation that’s already reshaping everything from social media to shopping, is also redefining how society unwinds.

Of people aged 18 to 24, 69% prefer marijuana to alcohol, according to a recent survey by New Frontier Data, a cannabis research firm. Consumers up to age 44 have a similar stance. But the youngest cohort is of particular interest, because many of Gen Z’s members still don’t have paychecks and purchasing power. Its oldest members, up to age 24, may thus be a leading indicator, given that they already have around $360 billion in disposable income, are just of legal age to spend it on alcohol or marijuana, and will doubtlessly influence their younger peers.

Zoomers, sometimes known as “digital natives” because they don’t remember a world without social media, are also coming of age in a world with widespread use of legal marijuana.

“Gen Z is the first generation to be of legal consumption age in an environment with widespread adult-use cannabis access,” Amanda Reiman, New Frontier Data’s vice president of public policy research, said in an email exchange. The firm’s study, which included 4,170 current cannabis consumers and 1,250 nonconsumers, found that the preference seems to fade with age, with just 44% of respondents aged 65 to 74 choosing weed over booze.

Big consumer companies are catching on. Last week, Boston Beer Co., the maker of Sam Adams beer, launched a drink with THC, joining a Big Alcohol-versus-Big Tobacco battle for the younger generation. Investors see the promise, too; Cowen Inc., a financial-services firm that follows the cannabis sector, said shifting risk perceptions among 18-to-25-year-olds  gives it a bullish position on U.S. multistate operators. It cited data that showed that from 2002 to 2008, that age group thought smoking cannabis once or twice a week was riskier than having five drinks once or twice a week. Then, from 2008 to 2019, that perception flipped and cannabis was viewed as less and less risky.

The preference for mind-altering experiences doesn’t stop at pot. Brightfield Group, another research firm, found that more than 10% of Gen Z adults report having used psilocybin in the past six months, versus 3.4% for the general population. Its survey, of 5,000 people, followed Gen Z’ers aged 21 to 23.

The top reasons for cannabis use were relaxation, sleep, emotional release and fun, according to Brightfield. Many are also specifically turning a cheek to alcohol, with “I want to be healthier” as the top rationale to decrease drinking.

Yet cannabis isn’t without its own health issues.

Young brains, which are still in a critical developmental phase until around age 25, are seen as particularly vulnerable, and the National Institutes of Health warns that frequent cannabis use has been linked to a higher risk of schizophrenia or other severe mental illnesses. Adolescents using cannabis are four to seven times more likely than adults to develop cannabis use disorder — a term for addiction to the drug, as defined by criteria like an inability to reduce consumption, constant cravings, and social problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites studies that estimate anywhere from 10% to 30% of people who use marijuana may have a use disorder.

A 2020 survey by the NIH found that regular cannabis use among college students was on the rise. Additionally, 8% of college students use it every day in 2020 — up from 5% in 2015.

It’s too early to see how Gen Z’s preference for pot over booze will affect everything from Big Alcohol to public health and nightlife. But it’s clear that cannabis legalization isn’t the only thing driving the trend.

Gen Z is “also a generation coming of age in the era of the pandemic,” said Bethany Gomez, managing director at Brightfield. And the global crisis trigger didn’t just spark a rise in anxiety and depression. According to Gomez, it “has reset a lot of focus away from bars and clubs and in favor of home events and gatherings, where cannabis is more easily procured and consumed.”

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