A recent study disclosed how younger generations are experimenting with cannabis and hallucinogenic use at the highest levels according to data from previous years.
In a recent piece by NPR (1), it was reported that younger generations are experimenting with cannabis and hallucinogenic use more than ever before. In a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), participants between the ages of 19 to 30 reported using one or the other, which showed cannabis and hallucinogens at their highest rates since 1988 (2).
"Young adults are in a critical life stage and honing their ability to make informed choices," said Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a NIH subsidiary (2). "Understanding how substance use can impact the formative choices in young adulthood is critical to help position the new generations for success.”
According to reports, the most recent data was collected from April–October 2021, as outlined in more detail below.
Young adult users reported in 2021 that they used cannabis in the past month (29%), daily use (11%), or in the past year (43%), which were the uppermost levels ever to be recorded. The study defined “daily use” to be 20 or more times within 30 days, and this data was up from 8% in 2016. Cannabis vape users who had vaped in the past month reached pre-pandemic levels. In 2017, vaping was reported at 6% which then doubled to 12% in 2021.
Over the past few decades, hallucinogenic use for youths had been somewhat consistent. During the pandemic in 2020, those rates began to rise. In 2021, 8% of young adults reported having taken a hallucinogen in the past year. This was the largest spike seen since the survey was created in 1988.
The hallucinogens users reported were lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), mescaline, peyote, mushrooms (shrooms), phencyclidine (PCP), and 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) which is also known as ecstasy or molly. MDMA use was the only hallucinogen to decrease, from 5% in 2020 to 3% in 2021.
The most popular of substances mentioned in the survey was alcohol. Over the past decade, daily drinking rates have decreased. Binge drinking though (NIH describes binge drinking as consuming five or more drinks in a row in the past 2 weeks) is seeing levels rise despite reaching a historic low in 2020, the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic (2).
Another form of alcohol use is high-intensity drinking, which the NIH defines as having 10 or more drinks in a row within the past two weeks, has been steadily increasing over the last 10 years. In 2021, high-intensity drinking was at its highest level since 2005.
Although the dangers of vaping are becoming more well-known, nicotine vapes are still gaining popularity with today’s youth. It was first measured in 2017 at 6% but has tripled in 2021 to 16%. Interestingly, opioids and nicotine cigarettes have been declining over the last decade (1,3).
Despite concerns, there is valid research going on for the benefits of using these substances, particularly related to mental health concerns brought on by the pandemic. There are many questions still to be addressed, making it clear that more research is needed. Please read our supplemental digital issue on psychedelics to learn more about some of the research efforts taking place: https://www.cannabissciencetech.com/journals/cannabis-science-and-technology/psychedelics-new-frontiers-in-alternative-medicine
If you’d like to learn more about this study, please visit: https://www.npr.org/2022/08/24/1119191104/marijuana-hallucinogens-use-young-adults