DataLegalizationNewsRegulationsScience and ResearchUSCannabis Use Among U.S. College Students Reaches 35-Year High: Study

The recent University of Michigan survey comes on the heals of a separate U.S. report that shows high school students are using less pot, but either way, the industry knows it needs to show social responsibility.
Jared Gnam Jared GnamSeptember 7, 20197 min

Higher learning just took on new meaning. American college students are using cannabis at the highest rates in 35 years, according to a report released this week.

Around 43 per cent of full-time college students said they used pot at least once in 2018, up 38 per cent from the year before, according to a University of Michigan survey. Around a quarter said they consumed cannabis at least once a month, up from 21 per cent in 2017.

The annual survey began in 1970 and the latest figures are at the highest levels for students aged 19 to 22 since 1983.

Despite the surge in consumption among college students, a separate U.S. federal survey showed high school students actually have been using less pot. According to the report published in August, 12.5 per cent of American teens aged 12 to 17 used marijuana, dropping from nearly 16 per cent at the turn of the century.

The decline in teen cannabis use was a boon for legalization advocates, as critics often express fears ending prohibition will lead to an increase in teen use.

But it appears American college students are making up for lost time. The Michigan survey also showed about 6 per cent of the post-secondary students said they used cannabis 20 or more times in a 30-day period. For the non-students in the same age group, the figure was 11 per cent.

Students who frequently use cannabis are the researchers top concern as it leads to poor academic performance and dropouts, says John Schulenberg, principal investigator of the Monitoring the Future Panel Study.

“Daily marijuana use, especially among non-college youth, is worrisome,” noted Schulenberg. “The brain is still growing in the early 20s, and as the surgeon general just reported, the scientific evidence indicates that heavy marijuana use can be detrimental to cognitive functioning and mental health.

Laid back perceptions on pot punctuates concerns

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams made late August headlines after he warned pregnant mothers and teens, “this ain’t your mother’s marijuana.”

The advisory was the first on marijuana since one was issued by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in 1982. That was due to the rise of potent cannabis strains since then that are also readily available in 33 U.S. states for medical or recreational use.

Adams said that using pot during adolescence is associated with changes in areas of the brain involved in attention, memory, decision-making and motivation.

The Michigan survey shows marijuana use has been on the rise among college kids for more than a decade. Schulenberg said the increase seems to related with the changes in perceptions about the risk of pot. In the early 1990s, roughly three-quarters of young adults said cannabis was dangerous. But last year only 22 per cent said weed is risky.

The 2018 survey interviewed 1,400 young adults aged 19 to 22, with 900 who were full-time college students and approximately who didn’t attend post-secondary school.

The survey also revealed about 11 per cent of college students said they vaped cannabis in the last month — more than double rate in the 2017 survey.

As the legal cannabis market grows in size and value, large pot firms know they need to demonstrate social responsibility to help the industry expand further — especially on sensitive issues like youth pot use.

Marijuana titan Canopy Growth (TSX:WEED/NYSE: CGC) partnered with drug awareness groups in May to create digital tools aimed to improve education and help youth, parents and teachers open up and talk about cannabis use.

“Now that cannabis is legalized in Canada, we have a tremendous responsibility to ensure families have the tools they need to have pragmatic, well-informed conversations about cannabis,” said Hilary Black, chief advocacy officer of Canopy Growth, in a release.

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