Youth marijuana use remained steady or declined across all age groups in 2015, reversing the rising trend of the past decade. While usage rates are lower than in the late 1990s and early 2010s, more than one in five high school seniors reports using marijuana during the past 30 days.
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 2011, 444 out of every 100,000 18- to 20-year-olds had an emergency department visit involving 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 current 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 2012, to 23 percent, but has since declined and is at 21 percent as of 2015. (Figure 1)
Trends for younger students are similar. Among tenth-graders, current marijuana use increased during the 1990s, from 8 to 21 percent of students, though it leveled off between 1996 and 2001. Prevalence of current use decreased between 2001 and 2008, from 20 to 14 percent, but then increased until 2013, peaking at 18 percent. Usage has since declined to 15 percent in 2015. Current use among eighth-graders declined between 1996 and 2007, from 11 to 6 percent, before a slight rise at the end of the decade, to 8 percent in 2010. Current marijuana use among eighth-graders was 7 percent in 2015. (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 2015, 16 percent of eighth-graders, 31 percent of tenth-graders, and 45 percent of twelfth-graders reported having used marijuana at least once in their lifetime.
Differences by Parental Education
In 2015, eighth-grade students whose parents did not complete high school were more than 3 times as likely as students whose parents completed college to have used marijuana in the past month (12 versus 4 percent, respectively). Among tenth-graders, the corresponding figures were 21 and 12 percent, respectively. Among twelfth-graders, students with parents who had no high school diploma were only slightly more likely to use marijuana than were their peers with parents who had at least a bachelor’s degree (22 versus 20 percent, respectively). (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 2015, 16 percent of tenth-grade males, and 23 percent of twelfth-grade males, had used marijuana in the past month, compared with 14 and 19 percent of females, respectively. The gender difference among eighth-graders was considerably smaller. (Appendix 1)
Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin
Among eighth-graders in 2015, white students were less likely than black or Hispanic students to have used marijuana in the past month (5 percent, compared with 7 and 8 percent, respectively). White students were also less likely than blacks and Hispanics to use the drug in tenth grade (15 percent, compared with 17 and 18 percent). However, by 12th grade, each group had the same usage rate – 21 percent. (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 2015, eighth-graders without college plans were nearly 3 times more likely than other eighth-graders to have used marijuana in the past month (16 and 6 percent, respectively). Additionally, tenth-graders without college plans were more than twice as likely to have used marijuana in the past month (13 versus 28 percent, respectively). Differences by college plans, while not as large as in eighth or tenth grade, were still pronounced at twelfth grade. (Figure 2)
State and Local Estimates
2015 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 2013-2014 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) 2015 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 94.3 percent in 2008 to 96.3 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 current 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 Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2016). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2015. Volume I: Secondary school students . Appendix A. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.
Data for 1976-2015: Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Miech, R. A., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2016). Demographic subgroup trends among adolescents in the use of various licit and illicit drugs: 1975-2015 (Monitoring the Future Occasional Paper No. 86). Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research. Available at: http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/occpapers/mtf-occ86.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, 1976-2015
|Less than high school||–||–||–||–||13.5||18.8||10.6||12.0||10.4||11.1||10.3||12.3||12.2||11.4||13.6||12.4||11.9|
|Completed high school||–||–||–||–||10.4||11.9||9.6||8.9||7.3||8.4||8.6||10.5||10.1||9.9||10.9||8.8||8.5|
|None or under 4 years||–||–||–||–||20.6||23.4||19.7||20.1||18.3||19.1||18.9||21.4||19.4||20.0||19.7||17.6||16.4|
|Complete four years||–||–||–||–||7.5||7.4||5.2||5.1||4.5||4.5||5.4||6.8||6.2||5.4||6.2||5.6||5.6|
|Less than high school||–||–||–||–||20.6||23.4||15.8||18.4||17.1||18.1||22.2||21.0||23.6||21.0||22.0||18.6||21.0|
|Completed high school||–||–||–||–||19.3||21.0||18.1||17.1||17.4||15.7||18.1||20.4||21.2||21.3||21.4||19.9||18.4|
|None or under 4 years||–||–||–||–||27.9||33.7||27.0||28.1||27.6||28.4||28.0||34.0||34.2||30.3||31.0||29.3||27.9|
|Complete four years||–||–||–||–||15.2||17.6||13.4||12.4||12.3||11.9||14.5||14.6||15.7||15.7||16.5||15.1||13.4|
|Less than high school||29.0||29.9||23.4||11.4||18.1||21.5||16.3||17.9||18.2||18.5||16.9||18.6||20.5||26.7||22.6||23.0||21.9|
|Completed high school||33.7||34.6||25.9||14.3||19.6||20.9||20.2||19.6||20.1||18.7||22.0||21.2||23.0||23.2||25.2||23.0||22.9|
|None or under 4 years||34.5||37.7||29.0||17.6||23.7||26.0||24.9||24.8||25.9||24.9||24.6||28.1||27.5||27.0||28.0||26.8||24.6|
|Complete four years||28.4||29.4||22.7||11.9||19.6||19.6||18.1||16.4||16.8||17.7||19.2||19.3||21.1||21.4||21.3||19.5||20.0|
|1 Parental 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: Data for 1976-2015: Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Miech, R. A., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2016). Demographic subgroup trends among adolescents in the use of various licit and illicit drugs: 1975-2015 (Monitoring the Future Occasional Paper No. 86). Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research. Available at: http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/occpapers/mtf-occ86.pdf. Tables 13-15
National Library of Medicine. (2011) Marijuana intoxication. Medline Plus Retrieved April 18, 2012, from http://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, from https://datafiles.samhsa.gov/study-publication/obtaining-marijuana-easy-youths-nid14041
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2009, July). NIDA infofax, science based facts on drug abuse and addiction: Marijuana. Retrieved February 4, 2010, from http://www.nida.nih.gov/Infofax/marijuana.html
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2013). The DAWN Report: Highlights of the 2011 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 from http://www.aafp.org/afp/991201ap/2583.html.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2009, July). Op. cit.
Data for 1976-2015: Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Miech, R. A., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2016). Demographic subgroup trends among adolescents in the use of various licit and illicit drugs: 1975-2015 (Monitoring the Future Occasional Paper No. 86). Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research. Available at: http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/occpapers/mtf-occ86.pdf . Tables 13-15
Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for whites and blacks in this report do not include Hispanics.
Child Trends Databank. (2016). Marijuana Use. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=marijuana-useLast updated: December 2016