Cannabis use last year among young adults—19-30-year-olds—reached historic highs for the age group since 1988, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found through a drug and alcohol use study.

On Aug. 22, the NIH announced this and other findings from the most recent Monitoring the Future (MTF) panel study, based on survey responses collected online between April and October 2021. Funded by the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the MTF study is a survey conducted by the University of Michigan, and the results have been published since 1975, according to NIH.

The MTF started tracking young adult cannabis consumption for daily, past-month and past-year use in 1988, and the NIH has noted various upward consumption trends. They include:

Young adults who reported cannabis use in the past year:

2021: 43%2016: 34%2011: 29%

Young adults who reported using cannabis in the past month:

2021: 29%2016: 21%2011: 17%

Young adults who reported using cannabis daily (20 or more times in the past 30 days):

2021: 11%2016: 8%2011: 6%

The percentage of young adults surveyed who reported vaping cannabis in the past month was at 12% for 2021, double the 6% figure reported in 2017. “Prevalence of marijuana vaping in the past month among young adults had significantly dipped in 2020 but returned to near pre-pandemic levels in 2021,” according to an NIH press release.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the NIDA, told The New York Times the results indicate “the problem of substance abuse among young people has gotten worse in this country, and that the pandemic, with all its mental stressors and turmoil, has likely contributed to the rise.”

However, while not being quoted on how much she believes adult use of cannabis specifically is or isn’t a problem, Volkow indicated to the news outlet that some drugs that are used recreationally also have therapeutic benefits.

Neither the MTF press release nor the report itself separate medical use from adult use of cannabis, nor do they acknowledge therapeutic benefits of cannabis. The report does, however, note that cannabis is legal at state levels and “how it is talked about in the literature and society at large, is changing.” (While state adult-use cannabis programs require consumers to be at least 21 years old, age restrictions for medical cannabis programs vary by state and can include ages under 21, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.)

Ninety-two percent of Americans support federal legalization of medical cannabis, and 67% of Americans support the legalization of adult-use cannabis, according to Digital Third Coast; 19 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized adult-use cannabis; and 39 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical cannabis for the treatment of various conditions, according to numerous government reports and CBT’s original reporting.


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