Marijuana, Hallucinogen Use Among Young Adults Reached All-Time High in 2021

Marijuana and hallucinogen use in the past year reported by young adults aged 19 to 30 increased significantly in 2021 compared to five and 10 years ago, reaching historic highs in this age group since 1988, the Monitoring the Future (MTF) panel study reveals.

The study on the most used substances among young adults, supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), demonstrates that rates of past-month nicotine and marijuana vaping, which both leveled off in 2020, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, increased in 2021.

Alcohol remains the most used substance among adults in the study, though past-year, past-month, and daily drinking have been decreasing over the past decade. Binge drinking — having five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks — rebounded in 2021 from a historic low in 2020.

On the other hand, high-intensity drinking — having 10 or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks — has been steadily increasing over the past decade and in 2021 reached its highest level ever recorded since first measured in 2005.

“Young adults are in a critical life stage and honing their ability to make informed choices. Understanding how substance use can impact the formative choices in young adulthood is critical to help position the new generations for success,” National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow, M.D. said in a press release.

All-time high hallucinogen use

Data for the 2021 survey were collected online from April 2021 through October 2021.

The survey reveals that the proportion of young adults who reported past-year marijuana use reached 43% in 2021, a significant increase from 34% in 2016 and 29% in 2011.

Marijuana use in the past month was reported by 29% of young adults in 2021, compared to 21% five years ago and 17% ten years ago. Daily marijuana use also significantly increased during these time periods, reported by 11% of young adults in 2021, compared to 8% in 2016 and 6% in 2011.

Past-year hallucinogen use started to increase dramatically in 2020. In the 2021 survey, 8% of young adults reported past-year hallucinogen use, representing an all-time high since the category was first surveyed in 1988, compared with 5% of young adults in 2016 and only 3% in 2011.

The hallucinogens reported by participants were LSD, MDMA, mescaline, peyote, “shrooms” or psilocybin, and PCP. The only hallucinogen measured that significantly decreased in use was MDMA, showing statistically significant decreases within one year as well as the past five years – from 5% in both 2016 and 2020 to 3% in 2021.

Nicotine vaping in the past month increased significantly among young adults in 2021 despite leveling off in 2020 during the earlier part of the pandemic. According to the NIH, the continued increase in 2021 reflects a general long-term upward trend: in 2021, nicotine vaping prevalence nearly tripled to 16% compared to 6% in 2017, when the behavior was first recorded.

Rates of marijuana vaping in the past months among young adults had significantly dipped in 2020 but returned to near pre-pandemic levels in 2021. Since 2017, when marijuana vaping was included in this study, past-month prevalence has doubled – from 6% in 2017 to 12% in 2021.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed The Lancet last week, reveals that 44.4% of all cancer deaths are attributed to preventable risk factors. Among the leading risks are smoking and drinking too much alcohol.


1. NIH. Marijuana and hallucinogen use among young adults reached all-time high in 2021.

3. The Lancet. The global burden of cancer attributable to risk factors, 2010–19: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019.

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