Legalizing recreational marijuana increased junk food sales, reports a new study. The findings of the study are published in the journal Social Science Research Network.
It's an infamous pop culture portrayal. After smoking marijuana, the main characters in the movie go on an epic junk-food binge, consuming mass quantities of chips, cookies, and whatever other high-calorie, salt-or-sugar-laden snacks they can get. While some neuroscientists have hypotheses, there remains no formal causal evidence to support this notorious effect of marijuana on the human brain.
A study released this month from a UConn economist, however, did find a link between state recreational marijuana legalization and increased consumption of certain high-calorie foods, suggesting there may be something more substantial to the urban myth of "the munchies."
The researchers compared purchasing trends to the implementation dates for recreational marijuana laws in states including Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Their analysis showed that legalizing recreational marijuana led to a 3.1 percent increase in ice cream purchases, a 4.1 percent increase in cookie purchases, and a 5.3 percent increase in chip purchases immediately after recreational marijuana sales began. While increases in ice cream and chip purchases reduced slightly in the months following legalization, the increase for cookie purchases remains high.
"These might seem like small numbers," says Baggio. "But they're statistically significant and economically significant as well."
The trend was consistent across the three legalizing states included in the study. Additional states that have also legalized recreational marijuana were not included in the study because 18 months of purchasing data were not yet available for those states.
While Baggio initially set out to see whether ties existed between marijuana legalization and increased obesity rates, this study did not delve into an analysis of obesity rates, instead focusing strictly on trends in sales data. Further analysis of health trends may come at a later date, but he says that both the growing marijuana industry and policymakers may find the developing research around varying aspects of marijuana legalization of interest when considering future policies.
"I'm not an advocate for legalization or not," Baggio says. "I'm just interested in whether there are unintended consequences to the policy."