Marijuana more prevalent than cigarettes among college students, new study finds

by Kelly Ledbetter, |
A woman smokes during a rally in support of the decriminalization of marijuana. One in 20 college students now uses marijuana daily or near daily. | David Mdzinarishvili

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (Christian Examiner) – The statistics should be concerning: over half of full-time college students have used illicit drugs at some point in their lives, about 40 percent did so within the past year, and a staggering 5.1 percent used marijuana daily, a study conducted by Monitoring the Future reports.

"This is the highest rate of daily use observed among college students since 1981—a third of a century ago," Monitoring the Future researcher Lloyd Johnston told Michigan News. The study of 1,100 full-time college students throughout the nation was conducted through the University of Michigan in spring 2013.

"In other words," Johnston said, "one in every 20 college students was smoking pot on a daily or near-daily basis in 2013, including one in every 11 males and one in every 34 females. To put this into a longer-term perspective, from 1990 to 1994, fewer than one in 50 college students used marijuana that frequently."

This is the first time that marijuana use has outpaced cigarette smoking among college students.

The authors of the study attribute these numbers to decrease in perceived risk regarding marijuana use. "We believe that some of this increase in use may reflect a secular trend," they wrote in the survey results.

"If the debate over medical marijuana use (and decriminalization and legalization) is reducing the perceived risk of that drug, the effect could well be occurring across various age groups, thus creating a secular trend."


During the 1990s, annual marijuana use rose by about one third among college students, from 27 percent in 1991 to 36 percent in 1998. During the 2000s, annual prevalence dipped, then gradually increased and has been increasing steadily since 2010.

Now, illicit drug use has risen to 39 percent among American college students in 2013, compared to 34 percent of students in 2006.

In the study, Johnston and other researchers said, "The role of the many debates on legalizing marijuana for medical use, the actual legalization for recreational use in some states, and the experiences those states have with the new laws likely will have an impact on present and future secular trends in use."

After marijuana, the second most frequently used illicit drug by college students is Adderall; 11 percent of students reported nonprescription Adderall use in the prior 12 months.

A 10-year study reported on by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has linked early chronic marijuana use to a lower IQ, academic problems, and post-graduation unemployment.

College students with daily or near-daily marijuana use were twice as likely to drop out of school than those who smoked less, while those who used marijuana only twice a month were 66 percent more likely to drop out than minimal users.


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