Marijuana and hallucinogen use among young adults reached a record high last year after having leveled off during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, according to federal survey data.

The findings also show nicotine vaping and excessive alcohol consumption continued to climb in 2021 after a brief pause. Another worrying trend among young people, ages 19 to 30, is the mounting consumption of alcoholic beverages suffused with THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

But there were some bright spots in the survey. Cigarette smoking and opioid abuse among young adults dropped last year, a continuing trend that has heartened public health experts.

The report provides a mixed picture of substance use in the U.S. that experts say reflects a number of trends affecting young Americans: the mental health effects of the pandemic, the increased availability of legal marijuana and the emerging therapeutic embrace of psychedelics to treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological problems.

“Overall, the results are very concerning,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which publishes the annual survey. “What they tell us is that the problem of substance abuse among young people has gotten worse in this country, and that the pandemic, with all its mental stressors and turmoil, has likely contributed to the rise.”

The online survey of people ages 19 to 60 was conducted from April 2021 to October.


Substance use research experts said the mounting use of marijuana in young adults was especially notable. The survey found that 43% in the 19-30 age group used cannabis 20 or more times over the previous month, up from 34%. In 2011, that figure was 29%. Daily marijuana consumption also jumped significantly, to 11% from 6% in 2011.

The surge in marijuana use has been occurring in tandem with a rise in the number of states that have legalized recreational use — 19 in the past decade. Experts say the normalization of marijuana has helped convince many young people that it is harmless.

A similar dynamic, experts say, is also at play with psychedelics. The use of hallucinogens had been stable for decades, but in 2021, 8% of young adults reported using psychedelics compared with 3% in 2011, a record high since the category was first surveyed in 1988.