Thirty Year High on Campus Pot Use

Compared to twenty years ago, the number of college students smoking pot has more than doubled. Thirty nine percent of college students reported using marijuana in the past year and fifty one percent used an illicit drug at some time in their lives. That is the highest rate in three decades and an alarming number of young people who are toying with substances that could create negative long-term consequences.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,100 students enrolled full time in a 2- or 4-year college in spring 2013. The survey is part of the long-term Monitoring the Future (MTF) study, which also tracks substance use among the nation’s secondary school students and older adults.

Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the MTF study wrote:

“This is the highest rate of daily use observed among college students since 1981—a third of a century ago. In other words, one in every 20 students was smoking pot on a daily or near-daily basis in 2013. To put this into a longer-term perspective, from 1990 to 1994, fewer than one in 50 students used marijuana that frequently.”

The age peers of college students were also surveyed for comparison and found to have roughly equivalent proportions in their past year use of any illicit drug other than marijuana to the students. Non-students were twice as likely as college students were to be daily marijuana users.

The results of the survey indicate that attitudes and beliefs brought into adulthood from adolescence tend to persevere. Direct learning (from personal use) and vicarious learning (from observing use by others in both the immediate and mass media environments) play important roles in attitudes about marijuana, according to the data.

This vicarious learning process has a very practical application for a national strategy for preventing future substance abuse. Suggested examples for teaching the risks of substance abuse to children include better education with accurate information on effects of substance-use through school prevention programs, by parents, and through media. Unless hazards are convincingly communicated to young people, they will continue these same trends of substance abuse.



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