BETHESDA, Md. — You may soon be in the minority if you’re of a college-age adult and not using marijuana, according to a new national poll. Marijuana has steadily become more and more socially accepted and popular in recent years. Now, a new study reveals weed use among college students and their peers reached historically high levels in 2020. In fact, researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) say marijuana use hasn’t been this high since the 1980s.
However, the report shows both marijuana vaping and nicotine vaping trends leveled off a bit last year after experiencing big increases starting in 2017 among college-aged adults. As for other drugs, use of hallucinogens among college students increased in 2020, while alcohol consumption actually dropped significantly between 2019 and 2020.
“The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the way that young people interact with one another and offers us an opportunity to examine whether drug taking behavior has shifted through these changes,” says NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D., in a media release. “Moving forward, it will be critical to investigate how and when different substances are used among this young population, and the impact of these shifts over time.”
Nearly half of college students using cannabis
The Monitoring the Future study has been tracking drug use among college students and non-college adults between ages 19 and 22 since 1980. Researchers conducted the 2020 edition of the survey online, with 1,550 young adults between March 20, 2020 and Nov. 30, 2020.
On an annual basis, marijuana use among college students has increased continually over the past five years. In 2020, it reached it’s highest level in three and a half decades. Close to half of college students in the poll (44%) reported using marijuana at some point in 2020. In 2015, that percentage was 38 percent. Similarly, 43 percent of college-aged adults not enrolled in school reported using cannabis.
Somewhat surprisingly, marijuana use among 12th-grade high school students hasn’t seen the same exponential growth. In 2020, 38 percent of high school seniors reported using cannabis.
Meanwhile, percent percent of college students admitted to using marijuana on a daily or near daily basis last year. It’s a notable increase over the five percent using cannabis products in 2015. For college-aged adults not attending school, 13 percent report using weed on a daily basis.
Vaping is dropping off, but drug use is rising
Moving on to the vaping of marijuana specifically, 2020 saw a surprising decline in young adults vaping despite an explosion in popularity in recent years. Between 2017 and 2019, the percentage of college-aged adults vaping marijuana during a one-month period more than doubled, rising from five percent to 14 percent among college students and from eight percent to 17 percent among non-college adults.
In 2020, however, only 12 percent of college students and 14 percent of non-college adults reported vaping marijuana over the previous 30 days. Nicotine vaping statistics fluctuated somewhat last year, but remained largely consistent after the big uptick between ’17 and ’19.
Notably, the use of hallucinogens (like LSD and “magic” mushrooms) increased greatly in 2020 among college students specifically. While only five percent of college students used a hallucinogen in 2019. That number jumped to nine percent in 2020.
Alcohol use also dropping on campuses
No drug is more synonymous with college than alcohol, but it appears many college students put down the bottle in 2020. Last year, 56 percent of students reported using alcohol within the previous 30 days and 28 percent reported being drunk within the same timeframe. In 2019, 62 percent of students reported drinking alcohol and 35 percent had been drunk.
Similarly, while 32 percent of college students reported binge drinking in 2019, only a quarter said the same last year. This trend didn’t hold up among college-aged adults not attending school however, as drinking levels among these young adults remained consistent.
“Historically, college students have reported the highest levels of binge drinking compared to same-aged youth who are not enrolled in college. This is the first year where binge drinking was similar between the two groups,” explains John Schulenberg, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. “While binge drinking has been gradually declining among college students for the past few decades, this is a new historic low, which may reflect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of reduced time with college friends.”
A few more bright spots in the study’s findings: cigarette use, non-medical amphetamine use (including drugs like Adderall), and opioid misuse all continued to decline among college-aged Americans.
The complete findings appear in the report Monitoring the Future: National Survey Results on Drug Use 1975-2020.