Marijuana use soaring among college students while alcohol use drops, study finds

By Harry Wilmerding

Marijuana use among college students has surged while alcohol use dropped, according to a recent National Institute of Health and National Institute of Drug Abuse study.

The “Monitoring the Future” study found that 44% of college students said they used marijuana in 2020, an increase from 38% in 2015. More, “daily” or “near daily” marijuana use among college students increased from 5% to 8% over the last five years.

The number of college students who said they consumed alcohol, on the other hand, dipped from over 62% in 2019 to 56% in 2020, according to the report. Binge drinking among college students, defined as having five or more drinks in one outing, decreased from 32% in 2019 to 24% in 2020.

The report also found that 9% of students said they used psychedelic drugs in 2020, a 4% increase from 2019.

“The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the way that young people interact with one another and offers us an opportunity to examine whether drug taking behavior has shifted through these changes,” NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow said in a statement.

“Moving forward, 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,” Volkow added.

The “Monitoring the Future” study has tracked drug use among college students and adults ages 19-22 since 1980. The 2020 edition was conducted online, collecting data from 1,550 college students between March 20, 2020 and Nov. 30, 2020.

John Schulenberg, the study’s lead investigator and a professor at the University of Michigan, told The Washington Post that the COVID-19 pandemic contributed significantly to the sharp decline in alcohol use.

“That’s definitely one of the greatest pandemic effects,” Schulenberg said. “We clearly see that young people use alcohol as something to be taken at parties and gatherings. With the pandemic, those weren’t happening, so the alcohol intake and binge drinking dropped.”

The study also highlighted the decline in cigarette, amphetamine and prescription drug use among college students.

Eighteen states have legalized recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21, and 37 states allow for medical marijuana use, according to The Washington Post.

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Image courtesy of U.S. National Guard