Use of both Cannabis and psychedelic drugs reported by young adults 19 to 30 years old increased significantly in 2021 compared to five and 10 years ago. For the first time ever, more young people reported smoking marijuana than smoking tobacco.
Past-month marijuana vaping, which had significantly decreased in 2020, rebounded to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. Meanwhile, past-month nicotine vaping had been gradually increasing among young adults for the past four years. Nicotine vaping also continued its general upward trend in 2021.
Alcohol Remains Most Used Substance
Alcohol remains the most used substance among adults in the study. But 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. It had dipped to a historic low in 2020. That was during the early stages of COVID-19 pandemic.
But high-intensity drinking (having 10 or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks) has been steadily increasing for a decade. In 2021, high-intensity drinking reached its highest level ever recorded since first measured in 2005.
Past-Year, Past-Month, And Daily Marijuana Use All Up
Past-year, past-month, and daily marijuana use (20 or more times in the past 30 days) reached the highest levels ever. These trends were first monitored in 1988.
The proportion of young adults who reported past-year Cannabis use reached 43% in 2021. That’s a significant increase from 34% five years ago (2016) and 29% 10 years ago (2011). Twenty-nine percent of young adults reported marijuana use in 2021, compared to 21% in 2016 and 17% in 2011.
Daily marijuana use also significantly increased during these time periods. Among young adults, 11 reported daily use in 2021, compared to 8% in 2016 and 6% in 2011.
Prevalence of marijuana vaping in the past month among young adults had significantly dipped in 2020. But it returned to near pre-pandemic levels in 2021. Past-month prevalence doubled since 2017, when marijuana vaping was first included in this study. Rates increased from 6% in 2017 to 12% in 2021.
Past-year use of psychedelics had been relatively stable over the past few decades until 2020. That’s when reports of use started to increase dramatically.
In 2021, 8% of young adults reported past-year psychedelic use. This represents an all-time high since the category was first surveyed in 1988. By comparison, in 2016, 5% of young adults reported past-year psychedelic use, and in 2011, only 3% reported use.
Types of psychedelics reported by participants included LSD, MDMA, mescaline, peyote, “shrooms” or psilocybin, and PCP. The only psychedelic measured that significantly decreased in use was MDMA (also called ecstasy or Molly). MDMA showed statistically significant decreases within one year as well as the past five years. It went from 5% in both 2016 and 2020 to 3% in 2021.
Annual Study Surveys Substance Use
Since 1975, the Monitoring the Future study has annually surveyed substance use behaviors and attitudes among a national sample of teens. A longitudinal panel study component of MTF conducts follow-up surveys on a subset of these participants to track their drug use through adulthood.
Participants self-report their drug use behaviors across three primary time periods – lifetime, past year (12 months), and past month (30 days). The MTF study is conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, Ann Arbor, and is funded by NIDA, part of the National Institutes of Health.
Results from the related 2021 MTF study of substance use behaviors and related attitudes among teens in the United States was released in December 2021. The 2022 results are upcoming in December 2022. The University of Michigan performed the 2021 study for NIH.