New research from the University of Michigan reveals that high school and college students are far less likely to consume illegal drugs than their parents. In fact, students’ use of prescription opioids (obtained both legally and illegally) is far less than their parents’ generation. However, there is one area where youth drug use surpasses that of the baby boom generation: Marijuana.
The Michigan study is an ongoing, four-decades-long research on the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs. In this most recent analysis of the data, we find that those who are in the 40s and 50s used drugs in their youth far more frequently than the teens and 20-somethings of today. Excluding marijuana, more than 7 in 10 individuals who are in their 50s used illicit drugs at some point in their lives. When you include marijuana, that figure spikes to 85 percent – the vast majority.
When this cohort was in college, approximately half were actively using illegal drugs. Today, about 40 percent of adults who are of college age are using illegal drugs.
When researchers looked at college students in 1980 versus college students in 2015, they found:
- 36.2 percent of college students in 1980 were smoking cigarettes, compared to 20.1 percent today;
- 22.4 percent of college students in 1980 were using amphetamines, compared to 9.7 percent today;
- 16.8 percent of college students in 1980 were using cocaine, compared to 4.3 percent today.
Cigarette use in particular is at the lowest it’s ever been. Flashback just 15 years ago to 1999, and 44.5 percent of college students were smoking cigarettes. That has been more than halved to 20 percent today.
And when we look college students’ use of prescription painkillers, there has also been a dramatic decline. Whereas 9 percent of college students in 2003 were using prescription opioids, today, that figure has dropped to 3 percent. This is true even though we know the use and abuse of these types of drugs has grown exponentially in recent years, meaning most of that growth can be attributed to older users.
Part of this decline could be the fact that awareness of the dangers of some of these substances is becoming more clear. This theory also explains why we’ve likely seen an uptick in marijuana use around young people. Legal marijuana, both for recreation and as medicine, has done a lot to lessen the perceived danger of the drug. In addition to studies that show marijuana is less risky in many ways than alcohol, negative messages about marijuana on social media are uncommon.
Compare that to the messages being received about synthetic marijuana, sometimes referred to as spice. When this family of drugs started to become popular, we began to see a flood of Twitter and YouTube videos revealing the horrifying effects of some of those drugs. That undoubtedly played a role in the reduction of spice use among college students from 8.5 percent in 2003 to 1.5 percent in 2015.
Researchers are careful to say this doesn’t necessarily mean we are moving to becoming a drug-free society. It’s possible that this period of overall declining drug use could be met with a surge, as we saw from the 1980s to the 1990s. However, there is also a fair amount of evidence to suggest that an uptick in marijuana use is associated with declining rates of opioid use. Marijuana is known to be safer and far less addictive than opioid substances, and this fact will likely dictate future use patterns to some extent.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.
College High: Students Are Using More Marijuana, Fewer Opioids, Sept. 9, 2016, By Angus Chen, NPR