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Marijuana use among U.S. college students hits record high during pandemic, study finds

The National Institute on Drug Abuse also found less alcohol use among college students as they navigated the COVID pandemic.

Forty-four percent of college students reported using marijuana in 2020 — up six percentage points from 2015 and a 14 percentage point rise from the 2006 low of 30%. Marijuana use among college-age respondents who aren’t in school has jumped from 32% in 2007 to 43% in 2020, about in line with their college counterparts.
Forty-four percent of college students reported using marijuana in 2020 — up six percentage points from 2015 and a 14 percentage point rise from the 2006 low of 30%. Marijuana use among college-age respondents who aren’t in school has jumped from 32% in 2007 to 43% in 2020, about in line with their college counterparts.
Susan Montoya Bryan / AP

Marijuana use among U.S. college students hit a historic high in 2020, and alcohol use might have taken a pandemic-induced dip, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

College students’ marijuana consumption rose last year, continuing a “significant increase” over the past five years, according to the federal agency’s yearly “Monitoring the Future” study. The recent surge has boosted college student marijuana use to its highest mark since 1983.

Alcohol use was less common among college students than in previous years. The study showed decreases from 2019 in binge drinking, getting drunk and overall alcohol use.

The changes in substance use came as COVID-19 forced college students to navigate social distancing, online classes and a muted version of normal campus life or, for some, a fully remote college experience.

Forty-four percent of college students reported using marijuana in 2020, the study found — up six percentage points from 2015 and a 14-point rise from the 2006 low of 30%.

Marijuana use among college-age respondents who aren’t in school has jumped from 32% in 2007 to 43% in 2020.

For everyone 19 to 30 years old, the study found all-time highs in marijuana use.

The gradual rise in marijuana use comes as more states, as Illinois has done, have legalized or decriminalized the substance. More than a dozen states permit recreational weed.

College students reported “significantly lower” alcohol usage, though, compared to 2019. The share of students reporting alcohol use in the past 30 days dropped from 62% in 2019 to 56% in 2020, while 28% reported being drunk in the past 30 days, down from 35%.

College students typically report more frequent binge drinking, but that dropped as well: 24% of respondents said they consumed five or more alcoholic drinks consecutively in the past two weeks, down from 32% in 2019.

Researchers started collecting responses for the study March 30, 2020, less than a month after widespread COVID restrictions took hold nationally and continued through Nov. 30, when virus cases were in the midst of a sharp rise.

Nicotine and marijuana vaping, once on a sharp upward trend from 2017 to 2019, leveled off among college students last year, with 12% of respondents saying they vaped marijuana in the past 30 days and 19% saying they vaped nicotine.

But cigarette smoking continued its decline among college students to the lowest mark in four decades: 4% said they’d smoked a cigarette in the past month.

Read more at USA Today.