Expanding legalization and pandemic-induced stay-at-home orders pushed cannabis use among U.S. college-aged students in 2020 to its highest annual numbers since 1983, according to a federal survey released Wednesday.
Among 1,550 college students polled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal government research bureau that collects information on substance use, 44 percent reported using marijuana at some point in 2020, compared to just 38 percent in 2015. For surveyed young adults not in college, cannabis use at any time in 2020 remained at 43 percent, which equaled the historically high levels recorded for the demographic in 2018 and 2019.
Tallies for daily cannabis use in 2020 mirrored the trend, with 8 percent of surveyed college students saying they used marijuana every day or almost every day in 2020, compared to nearly 5 percent who responded affirmatively to the question in 2015. Comparatively speaking, 13 percent of young adults not in college said they used marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis, which was similar to the previous two years.
The COVID-19 outbreak dramatically changed the manner in which college students interacted with each other last year, according to NIDA Director Nora Volkow, and likely played a role in increased cannabis use. In addition, 17 states now offer legal recreational marijuana sales.
But Volkow stopped short of saying the increasing trends in cannabis use would continue post-pandemic.
“It will be critical to investigate how and when different substances are used among this young population, and the impact of these shifts over time,” she said in a statement.
Cannabis vaping, which grew significantly from 2017 to 2019, leveled off among both college students and young people of the same age in 2020. Only 12% of the former group and 14 percent of the latter group said they vaped cannabis in the past 30 days.
Before the pandemic, the percentage of college-aged adults who said they vaped marijuana in the past 30 days had more than doubled from 2017 to 2019, from 5 percent to 14 percent for college students, and 8 percent to 17 percent for non-college respondents.
NIDA’s annual survey, titled “Monitoring the Future” has annually tracked substance use among college students and young adults ages 19 to 22, since 1980. It’s conducted by research at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, in Ann Arbor.