NIH-supported study also found past-month vaping levels rebound after early pandemic drop
Marijuana and hallucinogen use in the past year reported by young adults 19 to 30 years old increased significantly in 2021 compared to five and 10 years ago, reaching historic highs in this age group since 1988, according to the Monitoring the Future (MTF) panel study. Rates of past-month nicotine vaping, which have been gradually increasing in young adults for the past four years, also continued their general upward trend in 2021, despite leveling off in 2020. Past-month marijuana vaping, which had significantly decreased in 2020, rebounded to pre-pandemic levels in 2021.
Alcohol remains the most used substance among adults in the study, though past-year, past-month, and daily drinking have been decreasing over the past decade. Binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks) rebounded in 2021 from a historic low in 2020, during the early stages of COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, high-intensity drinking (having 10 or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks) has been steadily increasing over the past decade and in 2021 reached its highest level ever recorded since first measured in 2005.
According to the panel study, past-year, past-month and daily use of marijuana reached the highest levels ever recorded since marijuana trends were first tracked in 1988. Forty-three percent of young adults reported using marijuana in 2021, an increase from 34% in 2016, and 29% in 2011.
Hallucinogen use in 2021 was reported among 8% of young adults, which was also an all-time high since tracking began in 1988. In 2016, 5% of young adults reported hallucinogen use, up from 3% reported use in 2011. Types of hallucinogens reported were LSD, MDMA, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin and PCP.
After leveling off in 2020, nicotine vaping increased significantly among young adults in 2021. Nicotine vaping prevalence was at 16% in 2021, nearly triple the rate of 6% in 2017, when vaping was first recorded. Since 2017, when marijuana vaping was also added to the list, prevalence rates increased from 6% to 12% in 2021.
Prevalence rates of binge drinking, which was defined as having five drinks or more in one sitting, returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2021 at 32%, compared with 28% in 2020. High intensity drinking — defined by having 10 drinks or more in one sitting — was at its highest level since records began in 2005, with 13% in 2021 compared with 11% in 2005.
“Young adults are in a critical life stage and honing their ability to make informed choices,” Volkow said. “Understanding how substance use can impact the formative choices in young adulthood is critical to help position the new generations for success.”
The Monitoring the Future study has surveyed substance use behaviors and attitudes among a nationally representative sample of teens since 1975. A longitudinal panel conducts follow-up surveys on a subset of participants to track their drug use through adulthood. The study is conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor.
Increases in use also occurred among people ages 35 to 50, according to the survey.
Not surprisingly, the surge in marijuana use has been occurring in tandem with a rise in the number of states that have legalized recreational use — 19 in the past decade. (Another 13 states allow the medical use of cannabis.) Experts say the normalization of marijuana has helped persuade many young people that it is harmless.
A similar dynamic, experts say, is also at play with psychedelics. The use of hallucinogens had been stable for decades, but in 2021, 8 percent of young adults reported using psychedelics compared with 3 percent in 2011, a record high since the category was first surveyed in 1988.