Marijuana use at historic highs among college-age adults

New survey now online

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Newly released Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey data on drug use in college-age adults ages 19-22 shows an increase in marijuana use in the past five years, including vaping with marijuana, as well as a significant increase in nicotine vaping. The survey is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, and conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. The 2018 results are now available online.

Marijuana Use: The survey shows that past-year use of marijuana is similar for college students and their non-college peers at about 43%, representing an approximate 7% five-year increase for college students with rates for both groups at historic highs over the past 35 years. However, daily or near-daily use of marijuana is considerably higher among the non-college group with about one in nine non-college respondents reporting daily or near-daily use, compared to about one in 17 college students.

Marijuana Vaping: The past 30-day prevalence of vaping marijuana among college students doubled between 2017 and 2018, to 10.9% from 5.2%. Past month marijuana vaping rates for their non-college peers were stable at 7.9% in 2018 compared to 7.8% in 2017.

Nicotine Vaping: Among college students, past month nicotine vaping more than doubled from 2017 to 2018, to 15.5%, from 6.1% one of the largest proportional increases for any substance since the MTF survey began more than 40 years ago. Nicotine vaping among college students now appears to be more popular than the rate reported by the non-college group (12.5%). While cigarette smoking continues to be at an all-time low for both groups, rates are considerably higher for the non-college group than their college peers.

Other highlights from the findings:

Prescription Drugs:

  • Opioids (Called “Narcotics other than heroin” in the survey): Annual prevalence of the non-medical use of prescription opioids continued to trend downward. College students reported a significant five-year decline to 2.7% in 2018 from 5.4% in 2013. Similarly, for non-college respondents, there was a significant five-year decline to 3.2% from 9.6% in 2013.
  • Adderall: The survey showed interesting gender differences in the non-medical use of Adderall. Misuse rates were 14.6% among college men and 8.8% among college women.  Rates were higher, however, in non-college women than in non-college men (10.1% and 5.3% respectively.) 

Cocaine: The five-year trend in annual prevalence of cocaine use among college respondents increased significantly to 5.2% in 2018 from 2.7% in 2013 and is at the highest it has been over the past decade.  

Alcohol: Binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks) continues to decline among both college and non-college adults, dipping below 30% for the first time in 2018 for college respondents at just above 28%, and sits at about 25% for non-college adults.

In 2018, additional questions were added about both marijuana and nicotine vaping. The 2018 survey also marked the first use of web-based surveys among college-age and other adults. Half of the sample of adults randomly received the traditional mail surveys and the other half received the option to take the survey online. By randomly assigning respondents to either paper- or web-based surveys, scientists can detect the extent to which the survey mode made a difference in the estimates of historical and developmental trends. Investigators plan to increase the web-based survey option in 2020.  

Monitoring the Future Survey results for 8th, 10th and 12th graders are usually released before the end of the year that the survey is taken; however, college-age and other adult results are usually released the following summer. Additional data and an infographic can be found on NIDA’s College-Age & Young Adults webpage, which includes a college-specific toolkit for those holding events during the National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week® being held in spring of 2020.

For more information, contact the NIDA press office at or 301-443-6245. Follow NIDA on Twitter and Facebook.

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