Youth marijuana use has generally been rising for the past several years, though rates are not as high as they were in the late 1990s.
Marijuana is used for the intoxication or high that it gives most users. For most youth, marijuana is not difficult to obtain. Many youth think marijuana is not as harmful as other illicit drugs, though in fact it has both short- and long-term negative health effects. The former include memory problems, loss of coordination, anxiety attacks, and increased heart rate. In 2010, nearly 150,000 emergency department visits by patients age 20 or younger involved marijuana. Possible long-term effects include respiratory problems, a weakened immune system, testicular cancer, and cognitive deficits. While attributing causality is complicated by the frequent co-occurrence of other risk factors, teens who use marijuana are also more likely to have lower academic achievement, more delinquent behavior and aggression, and weaker relationships with parents, compared to non-users.
Marijuana use among twelfth-grade students has fluctuated considerably over the last several decades. In 1980, 34 percent had used marijuana in the month preceding the survey, but by 1992 that proportion had decreased by almost two-thirds, to 12 percent. Between 1992 and 1997, the rate of marijuana users doubled, to 24 percent, then decreased until 2006, to 18 percent. The proportion of twelfth-graders who had used marijuana in the past month increased until 2011, to 23 percent, but has been generally stable since then. (Figure 1)
Trends for younger students are similar. Among tenth-graders, current marijuana use increased during the 1990s, from eight to 21 percent of students, though it leveled off between 1996 and 2001. Prevalence of use decreased between 2001 and 2008, from 20 to 14 percent, but then increased until 2011, and was at 18 percent in both 2011 and 2013. Current use among eighth-graders declined between 1996 and 2007, from 11 to six percent, before a slight rise at the end of the decade, to eight percent in 2010. Current marijuana use was seven percent in 2013. (Figure 1)
More than twice as many students report having used marijuana at some point in their lives as those who report use in the last month. In 2013, 17 percent of eighth-graders, 36 percent of tenth-graders, and 46 percent of twelfth-graders reported having used marijuana at least once in their lifetime.
Differences by Parental Education
In 2013, eighth-grade students whose parents did not complete high school were four times as likely as students whose parents completed college to have used marijuana in the past month (13 versus three percent, respectively). Among tenth-graders, the corresponding figures were 22 and 13 percent, respectively, though there was no significant difference between students whose parents had some college and those whose parents had less education. Among twelfth-graders, students with parents who had a high school diploma only were more likely to use marijuana than were their peers with parents who had at least a Bachelor’s degree. There were no other significant differences in 2013. (Appendix 1)
Differences by Gender
Male students in tenth and twelfth grades are more likely than females to have used marijuana in the past month. In 2013, 21 percent of tenth-grade males and 26 percent of twelfth-grade males had used marijuana in the past month, compared with 15 and 19 percent of females, respectively. There was no significant gender difference among eighth-graders. (Appendix 1)
Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin
Among eighth-graders in 2013, white students were less likely than black or Hispanic students to have used marijuana in the past month (five percent, compared with eight and ten percent, respectively). White students were also significantly less likely than Hispanics to use the drug in tenth grade. Other differences by race and Hispanic origin were not significant. (Appendix 1)
Differences by College Plans
Students who plan to complete four years of college are less likely than those who do not have such plans to have used marijuana in the past month. For example, in 2013, eighth-graders without college plans were more than three times more likely than other eighth-graders to have used marijuana in the past month (20 and six percent, respectively). Differences by college plans, while not as large as in eighth grade, are still pronounced at tenth and twelfth grades. (Figure 2)
State and Local Estimates
2013 estimates of marijuana use and age at initiation among high school students are available for select states and cities from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS): see tables 50 and 52.
Estimates of marijuana use among 12- to 17-year-olds are available for all 50 states for 2011-2012 from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (formerly called the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse) at: see tables 2, 3, and 5
NOTE: Estimates of drug use from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, used to generate these state-level estimates, are generally lower than estimates generated by the Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF). The MTF was the source of the national estimates presented in this indicator, and users should not make direct comparisons of estimates made from the two sources. For information on methodological differences in the surveys that may be causing these differences in estimates, see:
Harrison, L.D. (2001). Understanding the differences in youth drug prevalence rates produced by the MTF, NHSDA, and YRBS studies. Journal of Drug Issues, 31(3), pp. 665-694.
International estimates of lifetime, past year, and 30-day marijuana use are available from the European School Survey on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) 2011 report, tables 29a&b-31a&b
Through its Healthy People 2020 initiative, the federal government has set several national goals concerning adolescent marijuana use. One is to decrease the “proportion of adolescents reporting use of marijuana in the last 30 days,” from 6.7 percent in 2008 (for ages 12-17) to 6.0 percent by 2020. Another goal is to increase the proportion of at-risk adolescents that did not use marijuana for the first time in the past year, from 94.4 percent in 2008 to 96.4 percent in 2020.
More information is available here. (See Goals SA 2.2 and 13.2)
What Works to Make Progress on This Indicator
Bandy, T., & Moore, K. A. (2008). What works for preventing and stopping substance use in adolescents: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions [Electronic Version] Washington, DC: Child Trends.
The National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, a project of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is a searchable database of interventions for the prevention and treatment of mental health and substance abuse disorders. It allows users to refine searches by the rigor of the evidence for effectiveness, and by other parameters, such as age group of the target population.
Students are defined as marijuana users when they answer “one or more times” to the question “On how many occasions (if any) have you used marijuana during the last 30 days?” Dropouts and students who were absent on the day of the survey are not included in the results. For detailed analysis of how those omissions may affect results, see: Johnston, L. D., O'Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2013). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2012. Volume I: Secondary school students . Appendix A. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.
Data for 1976-2013: Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Miech, R. A. (2014). Demographic subgroup trends among adolescents in the use of various licit and illicit drugs: 1975-2013 (Monitoring the Future Occasional Paper No. 81). Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research. Available at: http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/occpapers/mtf-occ81.pdf. Tables 13-15
Raw Data Source
Monitoring the Future
Appendix 1 - Marijuana Use in the Past Thirty Days Among 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-Grade Students: Selected Years, 1976-2013
|Less than high school||-||-||-||-||13.5||18.8||16.4||13.5||13.7||11.3||10.6||12.0||10.4||11.1||10.3||12.3||12.2||11.4||13.6|
|Completed high school||-||-||-||-||10.4||11.9||11.9||11.3||10.0||8.3||9.6||8.9||7.3||8.4||8.6||10.5||10.1||9.9||10.9|
|None or under 4 years||-||-||-||-||20.6||23.4||23.9||23.2||21.7||19.0||19.7||20.1||18.3||19.1||18.9||21.4||19.4||20.0||19.7|
|Complete four years||-||-||-||-||7.5||7.4||7.5||6.8||6.0||4.9||5.2||5.1||4.5||4.5||5.4||6.8||6.2||5.4||6.2|
|Less than high school||-||-||-||-||20.6||23.4||20.6||21.6||21.6||19.5||15.8||18.4||17.1||18.1||22.2||21.0||23.6||21.0||22.0|
|Completed high school||-||-||-||-||19.3||21.0||22.8||20.4||20.3||17.9||18.1||17.1||17.4||15.7||18.1||20.4||21.2||21.3||21.4|
|None or under 4 years||-||-||-||-||27.9||33.7||35.2||31.5||31.3||27.5||27.0||28.1||27.6||28.4||28.0||34.0||34.2||30.3||31.0|
|Complete four years||-||-||-||-||15.2||17.6||17.3||15.6||14.7||14.2||13.4||12.4||12.3||11.9||14.5||14.6||15.7||15.7||16.5|
|Less than high school||29.0||29.9||23.4||11.4||18.1||21.5||20.9||17.8||20.0||16.6||16.3||17.9||18.2||18.5||16.9||18.6||20.5||26.7||22.6|
|Completed high school||33.7||34.6||25.9||14.3||19.6||20.9||21.7||21.5||20.6||19.3||20.2||19.6||20.1||18.7||22.0||21.2||23.0||23.2||25.2|
|None or under 4 years||34.5||37.7||29.0||17.6||23.7||26.0||27.5||27.0||26.9||24.1||24.9||24.8||25.9||24.9||24.6||28.1||27.5||27.0||28.0|
|Complete four years||28.4||29.4||22.7||11.9||19.6||19.6||20.4||19.6||18.9||18.3||18.1||16.4||16.8||17.7||19.2||19.3||21.1||21.4||21.3|
|1Parental education is calculated by the Institute of Social Research as the average of the mother's and father's education. Child Trends has relabeled these results to reflect the education level of the most educated parent. In those circumstances where the gap between mothers' and fathers' education is more than one level, this results in an underestimate of the most educated parent's education level.
2 To derive percentages for each racial subgroup, data for the specified year and the previous year have been combined to increase subgroup sample sizes and thus provide the most stable estimates.
Source: Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Miech, R. A. (2014). Demographic subgroup trends among adolescents in the use of various licit and illicit drugs: 1975-2013 (Monitoring the Future Occasional Paper No. 81). Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research. Available at: http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/occpapers/mtf-occ81.pdf. Tables 13-15
National Library of Medicine. (2011) Marijuana intoxication. Medline Plus Retrieved April 18, 2012, fromhttp://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000952.htm
Office of Applied Studies. (2001, December 31, 2008). Obtaining marijuana easy for youths. Retrieved February 4, 2010, fromhttp://www.oas.samhsa.gov/2k1/youthGetMJ/youthGetMJ.htm
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2009, July). NIDA infofax, science based facts on drug abuse and addiction: Marijuana. Retrieved February 4, 2010, fromhttp://www.nida.nih.gov/Infofax/marijuana.html
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2012). The DAWN Report: Highlights of the 2010 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) findings on drug-related emergency department visits. Rockville, MD: Author.
Hubbard, J. R., Franco, S. E., & Onaivi, E. S. (1999). Marijuana: Medical implications [Electronic Version]. American Family Physician, 60, 2583-2593. Retrieved February 4, 2010 fromhttp://www.aafp.org/afp/991201ap/2583.html.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2009, July). Op. cit.
Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Miech, R. A. (2014). Demographic subgroup trends among adolescents in the use of various licit and illicit drugs: 1975-2013 (Monitoring the Future Occasional Paper No. 81). Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research. Available at: http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/occpapers/mtf-occ81.pdf. Tables 7-9
Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for whites and blacks in this report do not include Hispanics.
Child Trends Databank. (2014). Marijuana Use. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=marijuana-use
Last updated: August 2014