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How High Are College Students Today? Very High, Says Study

According to a new study, marijuana use among college students is on the rise. They're also still drinking heavily, but putting down the cigarettes.
Image by Paul Schlemmer via Stocksy

College students are smoking even more weed than they were ten years ago, a new study says. Meanwhile, narcotics and cigarette use have decreased, and alcohol is still by far the vice of choice for most young adults.

Researchers at the University of Michigan surveyed a group of 1500 students one to four years out of high school who were enrolled full-time at universities and community colleges across the US. Of these students, 38 percent reported having used marijuana in 2015, and 4.6 percent said they had used marijuana at least 20 times in the last 30 days. This is up from 2006, when 30 percent of a similar group reported having used marijuana in the last month. In 2007, 3.5 percent said they had smoked marijuana 20 days out of the month, though that number peaked in 2014, at 5.9 percent of college students.


Read more: Why People Smoke Weed to Treat Depression

The study, which was sponsored by The National Institute on Drug Abuse at The National Institutes of Health, also found that college students' perception of the risks of using marijuana recreationally have declined in the last decade—a finding that echoes a study published in July that found a relationship between perceived risk and usage of marijuana. This new study shows that, while 58 percent of 19 to 22 year olds in 2003 believed habitual pot smoking to be dangerous, only 33 percent of the same age group felt the same way in 2015. That's a fairly significant decline.

Lloyd Johnston, the study's principal investigator, tells Broadly that marijuana use was declining gradually in the early 2000s, but since 2006 has been on the rise among college students.

You're going to have trouble making pitches for marijuana legalization unless you're making arguments that it is less dangerous.

"[College students today] are much less likely to see marijuana use as dangerous, which has been a major deterrent in the past," he says, adding that a possible source for this change in perception is the national discussion around medical marijuana use and legalization. "You're going to have trouble making pitches for marijuana legalization unless you're making arguments that it is less dangerous. Also, in a sense, the legal risks are diminishing, particularly in states where marijuana is allowed."

Unsurprisingly, alcohol remains a large part of campus life for most young adults. Researchers found that while 79 percent of students had consumed alcohol in the past year, 63 percent had in the last 30 days, and 62 percent reported having been drunk in the past year. The study found that binge drinking has slightly decreased among male college students, though female students have shown little change in their binge drinking habits.

The study did find a sharp decline in cigarette smoking among college students, which Johnston says is a "major event" that's going to have "considerable consequences in terms of the longevity and health of this generation."

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Also, Johnston notes, while perceived risk of marijuana use has declined among young adults, "college students have been more attuned to the information on the dangers of cigarette smoking."