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Use of Cannabis and Psychedelics By Young Adults Hits All-Time High in 2021

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

August 23, 2022

Natural recreational drugs concept. Dry cannabis buds with psilocybin mushrooms in wooden craft box

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Young adults used cannabis and

in 2021 at significantly higher rates than five and 10 years ago, according to data released on Monday by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The use of marijuana and hallucinogens by adults aged 19 to 30 increased to all-time record high levels, according to the Monitoring the Future study, an annual survey of substance use behaviors among young people.

“As the drug landscape shifts over time, this data provides a window into the substances and patterns of use favored by young adults. 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,” National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow, M.D.

. “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.”

Daily cannabis use and the use of marijuana over the past month and past year by young people rose to the highest level seen since the Monitoring the Future study began in 1988. The proportion of young adults who reported using marijuana over the previous year reached 43 percent in 2021, a significant increase from 34 percent five years ago (2016) and 29 percent 10 years ago (2011). Marijuana use in the past month was reported by 29 percent of young adults in 2021, compared to 21 percent in 2016 and 17 percent in 2011. Daily marijuana use also increased significantly, with 11 percent of young adults reporting daily use in 2021, compared to 8 percent in 2016 and 6 percent in 2011.

The NIH reports that the use of hallucinogenic drugs had remained relatively steady for decades until a dramatic spike in use was reported in 2020. In 2021, 8 percent of young adults reported hallucinogen use over the previous year, representing an all-time high since the category was first surveyed in 1988. By comparison, in 2016, 5 percent of young adults reported past-year hallucinogen use, and in 2011, only 3 percent reported use. 

Young adults used several different types of psychedelics, including LSD, MDMA, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, and PCP. The only psychedelic drug measured that significantly decreased in use was MDMA, showing statistically significant decreases over the previous year as well as the past five years — from 5 percent in both 2016 and 2020 to 3 percent in 2021.

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In Addition to Cannabis and Psychedelics, Rates of Binge Drinking Also Rise

In addition to the rates of cannabis and psychedelics use, binge drinking of alcohol by young people rose to pre-pandemic levels in 2021 after decreasing significantly in 2020. However, past-month and past-year alcohol use and daily drinking have been on a downward trend in young adults for the past 10 years. In 2021, 66 percent of young adults reported alcohol use in the past 30 days, a significant decline from 70 percent recorded in 2016 and 69 percent in 2011.

from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that drug overdoses rose during the COVID-19 pandemic among people of all ages. In 2021, 108,886 people died of a drug overdose in the United States, more than double the number of deaths in 2015 and a new all-time high. An overwhelming majority of drug overdose deaths involved opioids according to the CDC. 

Encouragingly, the NIH study showed that the non-medical use of opioids by young adults has declined steadily over the past decade, including “significant decreases” in the last year. The use of cigarettes over the past month decreased significantly, while vaping nicotine increased in 2021 after leveling off in 2020.

“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, Ph.D., a research professor at the University of Michigan and principal investigator of the MTF panel 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.”

A.J. Herrington

About The Author

A.J. Herrington

HIGH THERE MISSION

WE’RE A CREATIVE COMMUNITY — EXPLORING THE SCIENCE, CRAFT, AND CULTURE OF CANNABIS.
WE BELIEVE THAT WE HAVE A COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS ERADICATING THE STIGMA, MISINFORMATION, AND INEQUITIES SURROUNDING THIS PLANT, SO WE CAN UNLOCK ITS TRUE POTENTIAL FOR ALL.

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