Marijuana and hallucinogen use in the past year reported by young adults 19 to 30 increased significantly in 2021 compared to five and 10 years ago, according to a new National Institute of Health (NIH) supported 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.
“As the drug landscape shifts over time, this data provides a window into the substances and patterns of use favored by young adults,” said NIH Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow.
“Young adults are in a critical life stage and honing their ability to make informed choices,” she said. “Understanding how substance use can impact the formative choices in young adulthood is critical to help position the new generations for success.”
Data for the 2021 survey were collected online from April 2021 through October 2021. Key findings in the young adult group include:
The proportion of young adults who reported past-year marijuana use reached 43% in 2021, a significant increase from 34% five years ago and 29% 10 years ago.
Marijuana use in the past month was reported by 29% of young adults in 2021, compared to 21% in 2016 and 17% in 2011.
Daily marijuana use also significantly increased during these periods, reported by 11% of young adults in 2021, compared to 8% in 2016 and 6% in 2011.
While marijuana use is at historic highs, alcohol remains the most-used substance among adults in the study, though past-year, past-month and daily drinking have decreased 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 the 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.
The study also showed significant decreases in past-month cigarette smoking by young adults and non-medical use of opioid medications in the past year (surveyed as “narcotics other than heroin”) compared to 10 years ago. Both substances have been declining steadily in use for the past decade.
Additional data from the 2021 MTF panel study include drug use reported by adults 35 to 50, college/non-college young adults and various demographic subgroups.
“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., 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,” she said.
Since 1975, the Monitoring the Future study has annually surveyed substance use behaviors and attitudes among a nationally representative sample of teens.