Cannabis Opinion Recreational Research

American Adults Are Pretty Friggin Stoned, Says New Report

American adults stoned
Written by Sarah Friedman

There’s a study about almost everything these days, and not every study is a good study. But some, even if not completely accurate, do tell us a lot about trends in our country. Like one recently published report that says young American adults are the most stoned they’ve ever been. Read on to find out more.

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The Report

Called the Monitoring The Future Panel Study Annual Report: National data on substance use among adults ages 19 to 60, 1976-2021, the report was sponsored by the government agency, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, at the National Institutes of Health. What is the purpose of this research?

“Monitoring the Future (MTF) is an ongoing research program conducted at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research under a series of investigator-initiated, competing research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse beginning in 1975. The integrated MTF study includes annual surveys of nationally representative samples of 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students, as well as a subset of 12th grade students followed into adulthood from each graduating class. Repeating these annual cross-sectional surveys over time provides data to examine behavior change across history in consistent age segments of the adult population, as well as among key subgroups.”

The young adult population looked at for this investigation included those aged 19-30. How does it work? The data for this particular investigation was collected from April 2021 to October 2021. And went like this:

“In 2021, young adults (N=4,909) were from the 12th grade classes of 2009 to 2020 and provided data at modal ages 19 to 30. Each individual participates in a young adult follow up survey every two years. However, because each cohort’s follow up sample is split into two random subsamples that are surveyed in alternate years (at ages 19/20, 21/22, 23/24, 25/26, 27/28, 29/30), a representative sample of people from each 12th grade class is obtained every year.”

Young American adults are pretty friggin stoned

According to the results of this report, one of the main things to be gained, is that American adults are totally stoned, and not just on weed. It found that young adults are using more cannabis and psychedelics than ever before; or at least, for as long as these statistics have been investigated, which is actually just back to 1988. Considering much drug use took place during the 60’s and 70’s, some of which didn’t carry into the 80’s as strongly due to banning measures, (particularly hallucinogens), this report is definitely somewhat lacking when comparing numbers to earlier decades.

So, what are these numbers espousing that American young adults are so stoned? In terms of cannabis use, all numbers recorded were the highest yet, with 43% claiming past year use, 29% using monthly, and 11% saying they used cannabis daily. In terms of the parameters for these metrics, daily use is considered using 20 or more times within a 30 day period, and this number was recorded at 8% in 2016.

Young American adults getting stoned
Young American adults getting stoned

What about vapes specifically? 12% were using vapes in 2021, which is doubled from the 6% that vaped in 2017. 2020 had lower numbers, likely due to corona and access, but the numbers quite obviously rebounded as things settled, leading to that much higher number in 2021.

American adults are stoned AND tripping out

The results of this investigation covered more than just cannabis use, and took a look at psychedelics (hallucinogens) as well. Psychedelics are newer to the general stage, and their rising popularity only goes back the past few years. This is mirrored in this research, which saw steady rates of hallucinogen usage for several decades, up until 2020. Then rates went up pretty fast.

In 2021, 8% of young adults said they had used a hallucinogen in the past year, which was also the highest number since 1988. But which doesn’t – of course – account for those wild 60’s and 70’s when these drugs were new and legal, or only just becoming illegal. The drugs asked about in this category were: LSD, mescaline, peyote, magic mushrooms, PCP, and MDMA. The study showed a decrease in just MDMA use between 2020 to 2021, going from 5% to 3%.

This goes in line with another recent survey study into psychedelics use in America. British internet-based data analytics and market research company, YouGov, questioned 1,000 respondents to gauge psychedelics use in America. Participants came from the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau; and data was collected between July 22-25 of 2022 for the survey. Respondents were supposed to be representative of the entire US, though especially with a sample so small, this is understandably debatable. However, the results are still interesting.

What did it find? That 28% of respondents has tried one of the following hallucinogens at least once in life: LSD, magic mushrooms/psilocybin, MDMA/ecstasy, DMT, mescaline/peyote, ketamine, and salvia. In terms of which of these came through as most popular, LSD had the highest use rate with 14%, and magic mushrooms came in second with 13% of respondents. 9% had tried MDMA, 6% were familiar with ketamine, another 6% had at least tried DMT, and 5% had experienced salvia.

What else are young adults up to in America?

While we sit here talking about marijuana and psychedelics use, the study made clear some other facts, which probably deserve way more attention. For one, the most popular drug wasn’t cannabis or any hallucinogen, but alcohol. Even with it being the most popular drug, the past ten years has seen a decrease in use in this age group. Possibly because weed is on the rise?

Binge drinking
Binge drinking

However, this doesn’t mean one of the worst drugs to overall health and society is making an exit, and in fact, other statistics are more worrisome. While overall drinking in this age group might have decreased a bit, binge drinking is climbing back up after a brief downturn in 2020, likely because of lockdown measures and inability to get it. Binge drinking is officially defined as five or more drinks in a row within the past two weeks.

Then there’s ‘high intensity drinking’. If you’re never heard of that one, this term refers to drinking 10 or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks, and has also been rising quickly in the last decade, with 2021 numbers the highest since 2005.

The report went on to point out that nicotine vapes are gaining popularity as well, with nearly tripled numbers from 2016 to 2021 (6% to 16%). The last line of the NPR write-up that covered this report, made this comment, “The use of nicotine cigarettes and opioids has been on the decline in the past decade.”

Let’s examine the first part of the statement. This first part is a reason for joy and celebration, and is likely true, due to the much healthier habit of vaping which has grown in popularity. According to the report, “Cigarette smoking in the past 30 days decreased by more than half in the past decade, from 21.2% in 2011 to 9.0% in 2021.”

The second half of that statement about opioids is a bit more confounding, as everything else tells us that opioid use is on the rise, and has been for the past decade. And they certainly don’t mean opioid use is high everywhere but that age group. According to the site Injury Facts, the 25-34-year age range sees the most opioid overdose deaths, which overlaps enough with the age group from the current investigation, to greatly bring the accuracy of this part of the statement into question.

If you look at the wording in the original report, it specifically says, “Narcotics other than heroin, Vicodin, and OxyContin were all at record low levels among young adults in 2021.” While Vicodin and heroin certainly cause many problems – and should be counted, Oxycontin is one of the main reasons for the opioid epidemic, and its exclusion really hurts the relevancy of that section. The report never mentioned the word ‘fentanyl’ once, and its hard to know if fentanyl was considered (at all), or if the ability to make that statement was because removing Oxycontin brought down use levels enough to say they decreased overall. Either way, this is an example of very bad reporting.

Opioid use
Opioid use

That last part is so far off from everything else we know about the opioid epidemic, it brings up the question of why it was framed in this way? Why make it look like use of these drugs is down in this age group? It certainly makes me wonder what statement the writers were trying to make by downplaying the opioid issue, while talking about how young American adults are so totally stoned.

Conclusion

I never expect reports like this to be right on, but they certainly do show a lot of useful information. Sure, American adults are more stoned and tripping out more frequently, and they’re smoking less; which is great. But its also become more popular to drink large and dangerous amounts of alcohol, and well, we all know what’s really going on with opioids. In fact, given the alcohol and opioid issues, perhaps America would benefit more, if even more adults were getting stoned and tripping out.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.

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