Marijuana use among young Americans has skyrocketed to a four decade high, according to a new study from the University of Michigan. And the finding has some researchers worried.
Marijuana consumption soared to 43 percent in 2019 among 19-22 year olds. That’s the highest level since the early 1980s, according to the Monitoring the Future Panel Study – a team of researchers who’ve been tracking drug use in young adults since 1975.
Regular cannabis use can damage young Americans’ brains, according to John Schulenberg, the study’s principal investigator.
“Daily marijuana use is a clear health risk,” Schulenberg asserted. “The brain is still growing in the early 20s, and as the surgeon general recently reported, the scientific evidence indicates that heavy marijuana use can be detrimental to cognitive functioning and mental health.”
Still, some studies find marijuana use is more dangerous for younger teens, including one led by Natalie Castellanos-Ryan, an assistant professor at the University of Montreal’s School of Psychoeducation.
“But it is important to stick to the evidence we have and not exaggerate the negatives of cannabis,” she cautioned. “We can’t tell children, ‘If you smoke cannabis you’re going to damage your brain massively and ruin your life.’ We have to be realistic and say, ‘We are finding evidence that there are some negative effects related to cannabis use, especially if you start early, and so, if you can hold off as long as you can – at least until you’re 17 – then it’s less likely there’ll be an impact on your brain.’”
Even with researchers just starting to catch up to the public regarding cannabis, many researchers fear the growing popularity of inhaled substances.
More young Americans are vaping marijuana these days. From 2017 through 2019, the percentage of young folks that vaped marijuana at least once in the last month jumped from 5 percent to 14 percent among full-time college students and from 8 percent to 17 percent for those not in college.
“This is a worrisome trend given the health risks associated with vaping, including an increased risk of COVID-19 and the addictive properties of nicotine,” Schulenberg said.
The researchers speculate that such trends have emerged because these days fewer young Americans think marijuana comes with any potential health risks, like those associated with heavy alcohol consumption.
“Perceptions of great risk peaked at 75 percent in 1991, when marijuana use among college and non college youth was at historic lows,” notes Lloyd Johnston, the original principal investigator of the Monitoring the Future study. “We have consistently seen this inverse relationship between perceptions of risks of harm and actual use, with changes in perceptions of risk typically preceding changes in use.”
Though increases in young adult marijuana use perplexed researchers, their study also revealed some very optimistic trends. Even though more young Americans are using marijuana, fewer are using drugs overall.
Consumption of ‘drugs’ other than marijuana dropped to 17% in 2019, a noteworthy decline since usage spiked in 2014. Better yet, fewer young Americans are using cigarettes, amphetamines, and non medical prescription drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin.