21st December 2021
By Roland Sebestyén

Despite the legal cannabis market continuing to open up across the United States, a new federal study has found that cannabis use among adolescents actually decreased in 2021.

According to a press release issued by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a recent survey of substance use behaviours and related attitudes among eighth, 10th, and 12th graders in the United States showed a significant decline this year.

When it came to cannabis use, the percentage of students who reported using the substance (in all forms, including smoking and vaping) within the past year decreased across all groups analysed.

The data shows 7.1% of eighth graders reported using cannabis in the past year in 2021, compared to 11.4% in 2020.

The same decline goes for the 10th and 12th graders, as 28.0% and 35.2% of 10th and 12th graders reported using cannabis in the past year in 2020, respectively. This reportedly fell to 17.3% and 30.5% in 2021.

Nora Volkow, M.D., NIDA director, said: “We have never seen such dramatic decreases in drug use among teens in just a one-year period. These data are unprecedented and highlight one unexpected potential consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused seismic shifts in the day-to-day lives of adolescents.

“Moving forward, it will be crucial to identify the pivotal elements of this past year that contributed to decreased drug use – whether related to drug availability, family involvement, differences in peer pressure, or other factors – and harness them to inform future prevention efforts.”

Earlier findings from a different NIDA-supported survey, conducted as part of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, showed that the overall rate of drug use among a younger cohort of people ages 10-14 remained relatively stable before and during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, researchers detected shifts in the drugs used, with alcohol use declining and the use of nicotine products and the misuse of prescription medications increasing.

Adolescents who experienced pandemic-related severe stress, depression, or anxiety, or whose families experienced material hardship during the pandemic, or whose parents uses substances themselves were most likely to use them too.

Richard A. Miech, PhD, lead author of the paper and team lead of the Monitoring the Future study at the University of Michigan, added: “In addition to looking at these significant one-year declines in substance use among young people, the real benefit of the Monitoring the Future survey is our unique ability to track changes over time, and over the course of history.

“We knew that this year’s data would illuminate how the COVID-19 pandemic may have impacted substance use among young people, and in the coming years, we will find out whether those impacts are long-lasting as we continue tracking the drug use patterns of these unique cohorts of adolescents.”

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