Government Survey Reports Highest US Young Adult Cannabis Use Ever

September 30, 2023
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Government survey reports highest US young adult cannabis use ever

Who consumes cannabis in the United States? How has cannabis consumption changed over the years? These are the questions, among others related to substance use in the United States, that a group of researchers at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research explore each year through a massive survey.

This year’s report offers unique insight into how Americans consume cannabis across age, sex, and race demographics. In this article, we'll dig into several important findings from the 2022 Monitoring the Future Annual Report, which you can read in full at this link.

What is the “Monitoring the Future” study?

The Monitoring the Future (MTF) 2022 Annual Report is the most recent edition of a study published every year as part of a project funded by the The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH)  in an effort to track substance use trends across a nationally-representative sample.

Launched in 1986, the study utilizes a survey that, according to MTF, now draws on over 110,000 survey participants in total, though not all of those individuals are called upon each year to participate in the smaller “panel samples” used to produce the annual reports.

This year, the MTF survey drew on responses from 4,628 individuals from the 12th-grade classes of 2010 to 2021, as well as 5,450 individuals from the 12th-grade classes of 2005, 2000, 1995, 1990, 1985, and 1980.

“A multistage random sampling procedure is used to secure the nationwide sample of 12th-graders each year,” the report’s authors explain. “Stage 1 is the selection of particular geographic primary areas from within each of 105 strata in the US. Stage 2 is the selection of one or more high schools in each area (with probability proportional to the student enrollment size for 12th-grade). Stage 3 is the selection of 12th-graders within each high school.”

Vaping cannabis has become increasingly popular

One notable trend visible in both of the age demographics explored in the MTF report was the increase in vaping cannabis, though the survey doesn’t get into the details of whether consumers tend to favor oil pens or dry herb vaping devices.

“Vaping marijuana in the past 12 months was reported by 21.3% of young adults in 2022,” the report’s authors state. “Vaping marijuana in the past 30 days was reported by 13.9% of young adults in 2022, with the highest prevalence at ages 23–24 at 16.5%.”

Cannabis vaping isn’t quite as popular with the 35-60 crowd, though the report does note that this consumption method “has reached all-time high prevalence levels (at 9.0% in the past 12 months… and at 6.3% in the past 30 days.”

The MTF report doesn’t offer any possible reasons for the increase in the popularity of cannabis vaping, but a separate study published in 2022 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence may shed some light on the subject (though the study draws on an international sample rather than one limited to the United States).

According to the Drug and Alcohol Dependence study, the growth of the vaping device market has played a significant role in the consumption method’s popularity. Cannabis vapers also cited the view that vaping cannabis is a healthier alternative to smoking (a view backed up by this study), as well as the discretion of vaping relative to smoking and the perception of a “better taste” or a “better high.”

Young adult cannabis consumption at all-time high

According to the MTF report, cannabis use by young adults (those aged 19-30) is at an all-time high, with 11.3% of the young adult survey respondents reporting daily use. 

“In 2022, marijuana use in the past 12 months and daily use among young adults reached the highest levels ever recorded (since first calculated in 1988),” the report’s authors state.

“Marijuana use in the past 30 days virtually tied the highest level from 2021. In addition, vaping marijuana in the past 12 months and past 30 days continues to reach new highest levels (since first tracked in 2017),” the MTF authors add. 

The report mentions only briefly that “the legal status of marijuana at the state level, as well as how it is talked about in the literature and society at large, is changing,” but additional research has made clear that legalizing cannabis can be directly tied to increased reports of cannabis consumption among young adults.

Interestingly, despite concerns voiced by some anti-legalization groups, there appears to be little connection between legalization and increased cannabis consumption by individuals younger than 18, at least according to a 2020 article critiquing how the MTF report’s data isn’t necessarily suited to tracking the effects of legalization on consumption. 

“Long-term trends in MTF are consistent with other data, but year-to-year volatility in state-level series undermine the survey’s suitability for evaluation of state cannabis policy changes,” the 2020 article’s authors argue.

Older adults are also consuming more cannabis than in past years

One potentially surprising trend revealed by this year’s MTF report is the increase in past-year cannabis consumption by older individuals. 

“Among those ages 35 to 50 combined, the prevalence of marijuana use in the past 12 months has more than doubled in the past 10 years to 27.9% in 2022,” the report’s authors state. “This follows significant increases over the past 1 year (from 24.8% in 2021), past 5 years (from 17.3% in 2017), and past 10 years (from 13.1% in 2012).” 

Reports of cannabis use over the last 30 days revealed a similar trend for this age group, and daily marijuana use also “significantly increased over the past 5 years and past 10 years.” 

The MTF report’s findings align with a trend that industry professionals and researchers have been attuned to for several years. 

“As a primary care doctor who has incorporated medical cannabis into his practice, it is notable how many silver-haired patients are coming in to discuss the pros and cons of a trial of medical cannabis,” writes Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a physician and cannabis specialist at Harvard Medical School.

Grinspoon credits “the decrease in stigma associated with cannabis use and the increased interest in the use of medical marijuana by older patients,” for the overall increase in cannabis consumption by older adults.

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