Anonymized location data reveals trends in legal Cannabis use in communities with increased mental health risks at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic

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Background: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to increases in felt negative affect for many. This is concerning as individuals at increased risk for mental health issues are often more likely to use substances to cope with stressors. Objectives: The aim of the current study is to examine whether communities reporting an increased risk for developing mental health issues showed differential patterns of legal cannabis use as the pandemic began. A secondary goal is to examine the feasibility of using anonymized location data to uncover community consumption patterns of potential concern. Methods: Anonymized location data from approximately 10% of devices in the United States provided a count of the number of visitors to 3,335 cannabis retail locations (medical and recreational) each day from December 1st 2019 through April 2020. Visitor counts were merged with the average number of mentally unhealthy days (aMUDs) reported in the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) county the retailer was located along with FIPS county population and poverty rate estimates. A Poisson spline regression predicting visitors by day, aMUDs, as well as their interaction was performed, entering population and poverty rate as covariates. Results: As the pandemic began communities reporting a greater aMUDs showed greater visitation to cannabis retailers. Conclusions: These results suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic may have led to increased legal cannabis use in at risk communities. They also highlight the value anonymized location data can provide policymakers and practitioners in uncovering community level trends as they confront an increasingly uncertain landscape.

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Journal of Addictive Diseases



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