Young Adults and Marijuana

Young Adult Cannabis Use in 2024: Key Insights and Trends

Today’s young adults are navigating an era where cannabis, increasingly recognized for its medicinal and therapeutic potential, is becoming integrated into mainstream culture. This shift is marked by a greater openness and a nuanced understanding of cannabis’ role in wellness and lifestyle, diverging significantly from previous generations’ more cautious, often prohibitionist stance.

It’s clear that we’re witnessing a pivotal moment in the ongoing dialogue about cannabis, health, and society with these current trends we’re seeing with young adult cannabis use.

1. Historic Highs in Cannabis Consumption

According to the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study, conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, there has been a notable rise in cannabis use among young adults aged 19 to 30. The 2021 survey data revealed that past-year, past-month, and daily cannabis use reached the highest levels ever recorded since these trends began being monitored in 1988.

Specifically, the proportion of young adults who reported past-year cannabis use climbed to 43% in 2021, a significant increase from 34% in 2016 and 29% in 2011. Past-month use was reported by 29% of young adults in 2021, compared to 21% in 2016 and 17% in 2011, while daily use saw a jump to 11% from 8% in 2016 and 6% in 2011​​.

2. Shifts in Substance Use Preferences

Historically, alcohol has been the most widely used substance among young adults. However, recent data suggests a gradual decline in alcohol consumption within this demographic. A recent Gallup poll offers compelling evidence of changing consumption habits. This survey highlighted that young adults are drinking less than their counterparts in prior decades, marking a distinct move towards healthier lifestyles and alternative recreational choices—like cannabis.

Notably, the prevalence of cannabis use among adults aged 18 to 34 has almost doubled since 2013. As of 2021-2023, 25% of individuals within this age group report using cannabis, marking a significant increase from earlier years. This trend isn’t confined to young adults alone; middle-aged adults have experienced a comparable rise in cannabis usage, with a 13-point increase from 4% to 17% over the same period. 

3. Rise of Vaping

A study from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health highlights the rise of vaping in adolescents, revealing that the prevalence of cannabis vaping has indeed doubled in a relatively short time frame, from 5% to 14% within 2 years. This increase not only marks a notable departure from traditional methods of cannabis consumption, such as smoking, but also signals a broader cultural and technological shift towards vaping as a preferred method.

The rise of cannabis vaping can be attributed to several factors, including advancements in vaping technology, the perceived health benefits of vaping over smoking, and the discreteness and convenience that vaping offers. Vaping devices have become increasingly sophisticated, allowing for a cleaner, more controlled experience that appeals to both new and seasoned cannabis users.

Moreover, the portability of vaping devices and the absence of smoke make it a more attractive option for individuals who prefer to consume cannabis without drawing attention or disturbing others. This aspect is particularly appealing to younger users who value discretion in their cannabis use.

4. The Role of Cannabis in Coping Mechanisms

With the shifting legal landscape and growing societal acceptance of cannabis, many young adults are turning to it as a way to manage stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the role of cannabis in coping mechanisms for many individuals, particularly young adults facing unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. The New York Times reported that the cannabis industry saw significant growth during the pandemic, with dispensaries being deemed essential businesses in many states, many turned to cannabis as a form of self-medication for its calming and therapeutic effects.

5. Demographic Trends in Cannabis Use Among Young Adults

According to a 2022 report by The Hill, over two-fifths of young men and women now engage in cannabis use at least occasionally. This represents a significant uptick, reflecting a steady rise over a decade marked by relentless legalization efforts.

Remarkably, young women have been pivotal to this growth, nearly closing a long-standing gender gap in cannabis consumption. Moreover, the normalization of cannabis use among young adults is especially pronounced within college environments and among young professionals entering the workforce. 

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