Study Finds Marijuana And Hallucinogen Use At Highest Rate Among Young Adults Since 1988

Recent data collected by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has found that young adults between the ages of 19 and 30 are using Marijuana and Hallucinogens at the highest rates since 1988.

“Young adults are in a critical life stage and honing their ability to make informed choices,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an NIH subsidiary. “Understanding how substance use can impact the formative choices in young adulthood is critical to help position the new generations for success.”

The data, collected between April 2021 through October 2021, included annual surveys of 108,000 individuals, beginning at 8th grade and into early adulthood.

Marijuana Use Among Young Adults

Marijuana was among one of the most used substances among both young adults and adults in 2021. According to the data, the number of young adults in 2021 who said they had used Marijuana in the last year was 43%. Nearly 30% said they had used Marijuana in the last month, while over 10% said they used it daily.

According to those involved with the study, daily use was defined as using Marijuana 20 or more times in the last month. This metric increased more than 8% from 2016.

Along with an overall increase in Marijuana use, the number of young adults who reported using a Marijuana vape device more than doubled from just 6% in 2017 to over 12% in 2021. This amount of reported use reached levels higher than what was observed during the pandemic, according to experts.

Paid Advertising. We receive advertising fees from purchases through BetterHelp links.

Online Addiction Counseling

Get professional help from an online addiction and mental health counselor from BetterHelp.

Get Matched
Begin Therapy
  • Personalized Matching Process
  • Easy Online Scheduling
  • 30,000+ Licensed Therapists


Hallucinogen Use Among Young Adults

In decades past, the number of young adults who reported using Hallucinogens had been fairly consistent year-over-year. That is until rates started spiking in 2020. Rates spiked so high, in fact, that in 2021 the number of young adults who reported using Hallucinogens in the past year reached 8%, the highest since 1988.

Among reported Hallucinogen use was LSD, which accounted for about 4.2% of all Hallucinogen use. Other reported Hallucinogen use included Mescaline, Shrooms, PCP, and MDMA (Ecstasy). Researchers noted, however, that the use of Ecstasy decreased among young adults, from 5% in 2020 to 3% in 2021.

Other Substances Reported

Even more so than Marijuana and Hallucinogens, the most reported substance used among young adults was alcohol, which nearly 82% of all young adults reported using in the last year. The data did reflect, however, that the rate of alcohol use has been on the decline for the past 10 years.

However, the data showed that binge drinking, which was defined as having 5 or more drinks in a row, was increasing once again after hitting an all-time low in 2020. At that time, the number of young adults who reported was around 28%, however, that number has increased by nearly 15% to 32% in 2021.

Binge drinking wasn’t the only alarming alcohol-related trend that saw an increase in 2021. High-intensity drinking, defined as having more than 10 drinks in a row, has been increasing steadily in the last 10 years as well. In 2016, high-intensity drinking hit its highest rate, 9.6%, since 2005. Now, the number of young adults who reported high-intensity drinking in the last 2 weeks is 13.1%.

Along with alcohol, young adults also reported increased use of Nicotine vape products. Since 2017, the prevalence of Nicotine vapes among young adults more than tripled from 6% to 16% in 2021.

Researchers noted that the use of both Nicotine cigarettes and Opioids has been on the decline in the last 10 years.

Why Are Young Adults Using Substances At Such Alarming Rates?

There are many reasons why young adults, particularly those in their late teen years, may use substances. Young adults face challenges that are unique and are often a first-time experience for many. The development of the brain, the desire to fit in or to feel good, or simply the curiosity to experiment are all reasons why a young adult may choose to use substances.

The frontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for decision-making, natural inhibitions, processing, and cognitive flexibility doesn’t fully develop until a person’s mid-20s. However, the reward center of the brain, known as the striatum, is fully developed much sooner. This has led many experts to believe that this delayed maturation is to blame for young adults’ tendencies to use substances.

Many young adults may choose to use substances to help “self-medicate” or to help cope with a mental illness. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly 1 in 3 young adults aged 18 to 25 reported having a mental illness in 2020. Furthermore, more than 50% of people who report having a substance use disorder (SUD) also report struggling with mental illness. People who struggle with mental illness at an early age are at a higher risk of developing a SUD at some point in their lives. Because of this, it’s important to seek treatment for mental illness as soon as symptoms arise.

Getting Help For A Substance Use Disorder As A Young Adult

Getting help for a mental health disorder or addiction is not something reserved for adults or those with serious, life-threatening conditions. Like many ailments, the sooner you get help for a mental health disorder or addiction, the higher your likelihood of a successful, long-term recovery.

There are many options for young adults who are looking to enter treatment, many of which can address addiction and mental health simultaneously. Services like inpatient rehab can be a great option for young adults who may be struggling with co-occurring addiction and mental health conditions, as it offers 24/7 care and can offer many programs aimed at helping young adults learn how to cope with the stresses of adulthood.

For milder addictions or mental health concerns, outpatient programs should be considered, especially for those who may not wish to completely disrupt their lives. Outpatient programs allow patients to undergo treatment while still spending time at home with loved ones.

Treatment Is Available

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, waiting to get help can only make things worse. Marijuana and hallucinogen use is on the rise among young adults, and with it are cases of addiction. If you are looking for help, know there are people ready and willing to help you start your journey toward recovery. For more information about what treatment options are available to young adults, contact a treatment provider today.

Last Updated:


Zachary Pottle

Photo of Zachary Pottle
  • Zachary Pottle earned his B.A. in Professional Writing from Saint Leo University. His passion for writing has led him to a career in journalism, where he specializes in writing about stories in the pain management and healthcare industry. His main goal as a writer is to bring readers accurate, trustworthy content that serve as useful resources for bettering their lives or the lives of those around them.

  • More from Zachary Pottle