Study: College Students Increase Daily Marijuana Use

The University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future study sheds light on the usage rates of several different types of drugs among the nation’s college students.

Daily marijuana use among the nation’s college students is on the rise, surpassing daily cigarette smoking for the first time in 2014.

A series of national surveys of U.S. college students, as part of the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future study, shows that marijuana use has been growing slowly on the nation’s campuses since 2006.

Daily or near-daily marijuana use was reported by 5.9 percent of college students in 2014-the highest rate since 1980, the first year that complete college data were available in the study. This rate of use is up from 3.5 percent in 2007. In other words, one in every 17 college students is smoking marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis, defined as use on 20 or more occasions in the prior 30 days.

Other measures of marijuana use have also shown an increase: The percent using marijuana once or more in the prior 30 days rose from 17 percent in 2006 to 21 percent in 2014. Use in the prior 12 months rose from 30 percent in 2006 to 34 percent in 2014. Both of these measures leveled in 2014.

“It’s clear that for the past seven or eight years there has been an increase in marijuana use among the nation’s college students,” said Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the study. “And this largely parallels an increase we have been seeing among high school seniors.”

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Much of this increase may be due to the fact that marijuana use at any level has come to be seen as dangerous by fewer adolescents and young adults. For example, while 55 percent of all 19-to-22-year-old high school graduates saw regular marijuana use as dangerous in 2006, only 35 percent saw it as dangerous by 2014.

The study also found that the proportion of college students using any illicit drug, including marijuana, in the prior 12 months rose from 34 percent in 2006 to 41 percent in 2013 before falling off some to 39 percent in 2014. That seven-year increase was driven primarily by the increase in marijuana use, though marijuana was not the only drug on the rise.

The proportion of college students using any illicit drug other than marijuana in the prior 12 months increased from 15 percent in 2008-the recent low point-to 21 percent in 2014, including a continuing increase in 2014. The increase appears attributable mostly to college students’ increased use of amphetamines (without a doctor’s orders) and use of ecstasy.

These and other results about drug use come from Monitoring the Future, an annual survey that has been reporting on U.S. college students’ substance use of all kinds for 35 years. The study began in 1980 and is conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research with funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one of the National Institutes of Health.

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College students’ nonmedical use of amphetamines in the prior 12 months nearly doubled between 2008 (when 5.7 percent said they used) and 2012 (when 11.1 percent used), before leveling at 10.1 percent in 2014.

“It seems likely that this increase in amphetamine use on the college campus resulted from more students using these drugs to try to improve their studies and test performance,” Johnston said.

Their age-peer high school graduates not in college had higher-reported amphetamine use for many years (1983-2008), but after 2010, college students have had the higher rate of use. “Fortunately, their use of these drugs appears to have leveled among college students, at least,” he said.

Ecstasy (MDMA, sometimes called Molly), had somewhat of a comeback in use among college students from 2007 through 2012, with past 12-month use more than doubling from 2.2 percent in 2007 to 5.8 percent in 2012, before leveling. Previously, ecstasy had fallen from favor among college students. By 2004, it had fallen to quite low levels and then remained at low levels through 2007.

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