Despite the continued expansion of the legal market, the percentage of underage students who reported using marijuana “decreased significantly” in 2021, according to the latest Monitoring the Future survey of substance use behaviors and related attitudes among eighth, 10th and 12th graders in the United States.
The survey found declines in almost all substance use by teens in 2021, perhaps related to isolation and social distancing measures brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The sample size for this year’s survey is also down, however, representing about 75% of a typical year’s responses, according to a National Institute on Drug Abuse release, again related to the pandemic.
“We have never seen such dramatic decreases in drug use among teens in just a one-year period,” NIDA director Nora Volkow, M.D. said in a press release. “These data are unprecedented and highlight one unexpected potential consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused seismic shifts in the day-to-day lives of adolescents.”
Among the findings were that 30.5% of high school seniors reported using marijuana in 2021, down from 35.2% in 2020. The drop among 10th-graders was even steeper, with only 17.3% reporting marijuana use compared to 28% the previous year. Use among eighth-graders also dropped to 7.1% from 11.4% in 2020.
The 2021 decrease in vaping for both marijuana and tobacco follows sharp increases in use between 2017 and 2019, which then leveled off in 2020, according to the report.
“We knew that this year’s data would illuminate how the COVID-19 pandemic may have impacted substance use among young people, and in the coming years, we will find out whether those impacts are long-lasting as we continue tracking the drug use patterns of these unique cohorts of adolescents,” said Richard A. Miech, Ph.D., lead author of the paper and team lead of the Monitoring the Future study at the University of Michigan.
— Brian Beckley