Young adults used cannabis and
“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.
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.
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.
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.”