New research published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence provides evidence that a new scale that incorporates contemporary young adult language to measure the effects of cannabis is a viable alternative to standard assessments of intoxication.
Many previous studies examining cannabis use have simply asked the participants to indicate “How high do you feel?” on a sliding scale. But the authors of the new research noted that such a scale might not adequately differentiate between various levels of effects and might not be in line with the common language used among young adults.
“Research on cannabis is growing pretty rapidly, however, the field is still working on some pretty foundational issues about how to measure the effects of consuming cannabis consistently as well as in a way that reflects the experiences of people who are using it,” said study author Renee Cloutier, a scientific director for the Program Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Pittsburgh.
“Without this step, researchers are limited in their ability to generate knowledge that is reliable, generalizable, and easy to communicate back to the people who are most invested in it (i.e., people who use/purchase cannabis). The downstream consequence is that we lack a robust evidence base for creating an informed and empowered consumer base or policy makers who want to develop evidence-based cannabis policies.”
Researchers have developed a new sliding scale for cannabis effects that includes four anchors: relaxed, calm/chill, high, and stoned/baked.
To further evaluate the new scale, Cloutier and her colleagues conducted a 14-day daily diary study with 161 young adults. Each day, participants were asked if they had used cannabis. If they had, they were additionally asked to report the mode of administration (bong, vape, pipe, edible, etc.) and to rate their subjective intoxication using both an older scale and the newly developed scale.
“This study aimed to validate a new four-anchored item that uses contemporary young adult language to assess subjective cannabis effects in daily life. As expected, cannabis consumption levels were positively associated with the revised subjective cannabis effects slider and this association was moderated by mode of administration,” Cloutier told PsyPost.
“Specifically, the cannabis consumption-subjective effects link was stronger on vape-only days relative to blunt-only days. Our findings reinforce the need to update and expand our assessments of cannabis effects to align with the language used by young adults (e.g., calm/chill, high, stoned/baked), rather than focusing narrowly on ‘degrees of impairment’ or ‘intoxication’ as well as account for variability in effects by mode of administration.”
Importantly, the new scale had a larger standard deviation compared to the older version of the measure, “suggesting that the anchors encouraged use of the full scale,” the researchers said.
“Future policy and interventions focused on co-use behaviors will need to carefully define outcomes based on conceptual relevance (e.g., broader subjective effects vs. impairment/intoxication) and target substances (e.g., cannabis vs. alcohol vs. nicotine),” Cloutier said.
But the study, like all research, includes some caveats.
“First, we assessed subjective cannabis effects the day after a cannabis use event with a single item broadly referring to how participants felt,” Cloutier explained. “It is possible additional items could capture more important effects than what we specifically studied. It is also possible that participants did not fully recall the effects a day later – had we assessed the effects in real time (e.g., while participants were actively using) we may have gotten different results.”
“Because this was a secondary analysis from a larger study focused on young adults who regularly use both cannabis and alcohol, findings may not generalize to individuals from other age cohorts who do not regularly use alcohol. The sample was also primarily white, so findings may not generalize to individuals who do not identify as white.”