A new study shows that the number of college students who use pot continues to rise, but they’re more often rejecting other, harder drugs, including amphetamines and opioids. [1]

The Findings on Marijuana

The researchers’ findings come from the annual Monitoring the Future study, in which between 1,000 and 1,500 college students are surveyed each year.

In 2006, 30% of college students reported using marijuana. By 2015, that number had risen to 38%.

Daily or nearly-daily pot use (2o or more times in the previous 30 days) reached nearly 6% in 2014 – the highest level of daily use in 34 years. That number dipped slightly, however, to less than 5% in 2015.

Last year, 1 in every 22 college student surveyed said they used cannabis at least 20 times a month. About 2/3 of college kids said they don’t see anything wrong with toking up once in a while. [2]

Lloyd Johnston, a distinguished senior research scientist at University of Michigan and the study’s principal investigator, said:

“Something has changed dramatically. We’ve been asking the same question for years, and their answers are changing.”

Calling the increasing number of college-age pot users and the more Laissez-faire attitude towards marijuana “a national phenomenon,” Johnson said he believes the shift is the result of the medical marijuana movement, and the legalization of recreational cannabis in 4 states.

Recreational weed is legal in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, as well as the District of Columbia. California and Nevada will have the chance to vote on legalization this coming November.

Alcohol use was also covered by the survey. The college years are many people’s booziest, and that certainly was the case for those who participated in the study.

About 3/4 of respondents said they’d used alcohol in the past 12 months. Nearly 2/3 said they had done so in the past 30 days. Six out of 10 college students reported getting drunk at least once in the past 12 months, and 38% in the past 30 days.

In 2015, about 40% of college kids admitted to binge-drinking.


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The Objectively Good News

More college students are turning to pot for a high, but they’re also turning away from dangerous drugs in the process. The survey found:

  • Misuse and abuse of opioid or narcotic drugs fell from nearly 9% in 2006 to around 3% in 2015. Common opioids include OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, and fentanyl.
  • Heroin use – another opioid drug – has remained at or below 0.3% since 2006. It was 0.1% in 2015.
  • Between 2008 and 2012, illicit amphetamine use nearly doubled when it topped 11%. However, fewer than 1 in 10 students said they used amphetamines in 2015.
  • MDMA (ecstasy and more recently “Molly”) use rose between 2007 and 2012, but then fell to about 4% in 2015.
  • The use of synthetic marijuana products (a.k.a., K-2, Spice, Flakka, or Mojo) fell from 8.5% in 2011 to less than 2% in 2015 – about an 80% decline. Salvia use dropped from nearly 6% in 2009 to 0.4% in 2015 – a decrease of more than 90%.
  • The non-prescribed use of tranquilizers and sedatives in recent years has remained largely unchanged. But their 2015 rates (about 4% and 2%, respectively) are lower than in the early 2000’s.
  • Fewer college kids are smoking. Any cigarette use declined nearly 2/3 from a peak of 31% in 1999 to 11% in 2015. In 1999, 19% of students said they smoked every day, but by 2015, just 4% said they did. That’s a record low since 1980.
  • In 2015, 14% of college males and 6% of college females said they’d used an electronic cigarette product in the past 30 days.

Sarah Belstock, director of health promotion at the University of Denver’s Health and Counseling Center, admits that marijuana use has a “lesser impact” on the university community than alcohol and binge-drinking. She said:

“You don’t see the property damage and violence and general disruptions. But the individual impact [of marijuana] is a different story.” [2]

The human brain is not fully mature until about age 25. More and more studies seem to suggest that marijuana use has a negative impact on the developing brain. However, it’s a complicated subject, and it appears that marijuana’s effect (or lack thereof) on brain development depends, largely, on genes and other factors.

Belstock said:

“It’s something we are tuned in to and when we see changes in the rates, like this, we are alerted.”

But the dangers of marijuana will never, ever compare to the dangers of painkillers and illegal “hard drugs.” As I’ve written more times than I can count, marijuana is imperfect, but it’s arguably safer than even alcohol, which most people don’t think twice about.

Read: Alcohol Consumption Harms the Brain, Heart, and Stomach

Johnston summed it up this way:

“It appears that college students, at least, are hearing and heeding the warnings about the very considerable dangers of using narcotic drugs. The marijuana story overshadows a lot of the other drugs. But I don’t think it’s as dangerous in the sense that it leads to death like other drugs. It’s more subtle.”


[1] HealthDay 

[2] NBC News

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Post written byJulie Fidler:

Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.