An important new study indicates that consumption of those drugs reached historic levels in the past year
By Jason Langendorf
Marijuana and hallucinogen use among young adults peaked last year, according to a long-term study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan.
Among the findings of the Monitoring the Future study, released earlier this week, were that young adults 19 to 30 years old reported their highest-ever levels of marijuana use in the past 12 months and past 30 days, and historically high levels of hallucinogen use (other than LSD) in the past 12 months.
“The young adult findings have received a lot of attention, but it is notable that marijuana use also increased for adults [age] 35 to 50.”—Megan Patrick, University of Michigan
A longitudinal panel study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Monitoring the Future has been conducting annual follow-up surveys with participants through adulthood since 1975. The categories of marijuana and hallucinogen use among young adults have been tracked only since 1988.
“One of the best ways we can learn more about drug use and its impact on people is to observe which drugs are appearing, in which populations, for how long, and under which contexts,” said Megan Patrick, PhD, a research professor at the University of Michigan and principal investigator of the study. “Monitoring the Future and similar large-scale surveys on a consistent sample population allow us to assess the effects of ‘natural experiments’ like the pandemic. We can examine how and why drugs are used and highlight critical areas to guide where the research should go next and to inform public health interventions.”
Living Under Adverse Conditions
Researchers didn’t speculate on the reasons why marijuana use and hallucinogen use among young adults are up, but there is no small amount of evidence that points to the isolation and stressors of the pandemic as having fueled an increase in substance use across the U.S. population.
“The young adult findings have received a lot of attention, but it is notable that marijuana use also increased for adults [age] 35 to 50,” Patrick told TreatmentMagazine.com in an email. “In 2021, one in four adults ages 35 to 50 used marijuana in the past year, which is the highest level we have ever recorded for that age group.”
“As the drug landscape shifts over time, this data provides a window into the substances and patterns of use favored by young adults.”—Nora Volkow, NIDA
Still, while use of certain substances may have increased, consumption of alcohol continued its downward trend. Past-month, past-year and daily alcohol use have been in decline among young adults for a decade. A few more study findings of note:
- Daily use of marijuana (20 or more occasions in the past 30 days) increased. In 2021, more than one in ten young adults reported daily marijuana use.
- High-intensity drinking (10 or more drinks in a row at least once in the past two weeks) reached its highest level since it was first measured in 2005 at 13%.
- Past-month cigarette smoking in young adults and non-medical use of opioid medications in the past year (“narcotics other than heroin”) decreased compared to 10 years ago, and have been in steady decline since then.
- Nicotine vaping and marijuana vaping increased, after staying stable or declining in 2020. Since 2017, when they were first measured, nicotine vaping among young adults has nearly tripled and marijuana vaping has nearly doubled.
“As the drug landscape shifts over time, this data provides a window into the substances and patterns of use favored by young adults” said NIDA director Nora Volkow, MD. “We need to know more about how young adults are using drugs like marijuana and hallucinogens, and the health effects that result from consuming different potencies and forms of these substances.
“Young adults are in a critical life stage and honing their ability to make informed choices. Understanding how substance use can impact the formative choices in young adulthood is critical to help position the new generations for success.”
Photo: Jeff W