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New Record High for Young Adult Cannabis and Hallucinogen Use

The National Institutes of Health’s Monitoring the Future survey provides a snapshot of young adult drug use in the United States and a glimpse into how substance use might affect younger generations in years to come.

The survey’s most recent results reveal young adults between 19 and 30 used marijuana and hallucinogens at record-high rates in 2021. The number of people in this age group who used these drugs is higher than at any time since 1988.

11% of young adults reported daily marijuana use last year, and 12% said they had vaped marijuana within the past month. In 2021, 43% of young adults used cannabis products. About 8% of young adults admitted to using hallucinogenic substances such as LSD, PCP, MDMA and psychedelic mushrooms in 2021, compared to only 3% in 2011. High-intensity drinking rates also skyrocketed in 2021, with more than one in eight young adults reporting having 10 or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks. Those are a few alarming statistics found in a survey conducted by the NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Driving Cause of Increased Use

Although young adult drug use had been consistently declining for years, the unprecedented stress and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have caused an increase in substance abuse among all age groups. Overdose rates have also spiked in the last two years, taking the lives of an all-time high 107,600 Americans in 2021.

Mental health issues like depression, anxiety and trauma also go hand in hand with drug use. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ongoing pandemic has also worsened these problems by causing isolation and limiting access to resources that help people cope with life’s challenges.

Ease of access to marijuana and cannabis products is another contributing factor to the problem. Recreational marijuana use is legal in 19 states, Guam and Washington, D.C., while others have decriminalized low-level cannabis possession offenses or passed medical marijuana laws. Additionally, a loophole in the 2018 Farm Bill legalized CBD and Delta-8 THC, two compounds from the marijuana plant that bind to cannabinoid receptors. These products are available in some states that have yet to fully legalize the sale of marijuana.

Known and Unknown Risks

Many young adults’ curiosity about these drugs’ mind-altering properties leads them to experiment, which can be dangerous. Marijuana and hallucinogens can be unpredictable due to variations in their active compounds. While some users have a relaxing or mentally stimulating experience, these substances can also cause undesirable side effects like mood swings, increased blood pressure, disturbed sleep, panic, paranoia and psychosis symptoms.

There is also a risk of physical and psychological dependence when using any psychoactive substance for a prolonged period. Once this occurs, it will become increasingly harder to stop using cannabis and hallucinogens, no matter how much you want to.

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