Marijuana and Hallucinogen Use at All-Time Highs for Young Americans
Research shows that educational efforts and early prevention programs can help halt drug experimentation before it ever occurs in young people. For the most part, such campaigns have successfully brought teen drug use down in recent years.
However, two drug types, cannabis and hallucinogens, are being used at unprecedented rates by American youths, despite efforts to educate teens on why they shouldn’t use such drugs. Why is this occurring, and what can concerned parents, educators, and public health policy advocates do to protect young people from drug use?
What the Findings Show
Every year, the Monitoring the Future Survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, assesses the rate of drug and alcohol use among American teenagers and young adults. In the 2022 survey, the researchers found that most drug use among teens in 2021 and 2022 had decreased to pre-pandemic levels (drug use among teens had spiked considerably in 2020). However, some types of drug use are getting significantly worse among this age group. According to the survey (which also assessed alcohol misuse among youths):
Marijuana and hallucinogen use among teens and young adults (ages 19 to 30) increased significantly in 2020, 2021, and 2022 compared to usage rates between 2011 and 2019.
Young adult use of marijuana and hallucinogens is at the highest rate since recording began in 1988. For the hard data, the survey showed that the proportion of young adults who reported past-year marijuana use reached 43% in 2021, up from 34% five years ago (2016) and 29% ten years ago (2011). As for monthly use, 29% of young adults in 2021 used marijuana every month, compared to 21% in 2016 and 17% in 2011. Daily marijuana use also significantly increased among youths, reported by 11% of young adults in 2021, compared to 8% in 2016 and 6% in 2011.
From 2011 to 2021, hallucinogen use increased by 4.7% among young people. For the hard data, 8% of young adults reported past-year hallucinogen use in 2021. To compare that to previous years, 5% of young adults reported past-year hallucinogen use in 2016, and 3% reported use in 2011. Different hallucinogens used included LSD, MDMA, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, and PCP.
Overall, alcohol use is lower among teens and young adults, but certain types of use are rising, like binge drinking and high-intensity drinking (having ten or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks). High-intensity drinking was at its highest level in 2021 (13%) since it was first measured among youths in 2005 (11% then).
The findings from the survey show that, while gains have been made in reducing experimentation among teens in some drug categories, more work needs to be done. National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora Volkow spoke to this point. “As the drug landscape shifts over time, this data provides a window into the substances and patterns of use favored by young adults. We need to know more about how young adults are using drugs like marijuana and hallucinogens, and the health effects that result from consuming different potencies and forms of these substances. Young adults are in a critical life stage and honing their ability to make informed choices. Understanding how substance use can impact the formative choices in young adulthood is critical to help position the new generations for success.” Given the survey results, parents need to do more to educate their teen children on the harmful effects of cannabis and hallucinogens.
Harmful Nature of Cannabis
Cannabis has known harmful effects. Some of the effects of the drug that people may experience during or shortly after use include:
- An altered sense of time
- Altered perceptions and senses
- Unpredictable changes in mood
- Hallucinations, delusions, and psychosis
- Impaired body movement, lack of coordination
- Impaired memory, both short-term and long-term
- Difficulty with thinking, problem-solving, and answering questions
Cannabis also has negative long-term effects, especially for people who use it often. For example, marijuana can hamper brain development in young people, permanently affecting memory and reducing IQ.
Side Effects of Using Hallucinogens
Like cannabis, hallucinogens also produce unwanted and harmful effects in users, primarily by temporarily disrupting the communication pathways between chemical systems throughout the brain and into and through the spinal cord. Some of the effects of using hallucinogenic drugs include:
- Altered sensory perception
- Changes in sleep and appetite
- Changes in mood and behavior
- Fluctuations in body temperature
- Changes in intestinal muscle control
Using hallucinogens over time can cause permanent changes in pain perception, responses to the environment, emotion, learning, and memory. People who use certain hallucinogens like LSD might lose their ability to determine what’s real and what isn’t, a condition called Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD).
Young People are at Risk for Permanent Harm
Any form of drug experimentation poses risks for negative side effects during drug use. Further, drug use carries risks for serious long-term harm. That is true of all mind-altering substances and for all people who use them. However, an additional risk layer is present when young people use drugs. Young people have developing brains, which are particularly prone to adverse reactions to foreign substances like drugs and alcohol.
Most drugs, including cannabis and hallucinogens, can produce lasting, even permanent, changes within the developing brain of a teenager or young adult. Because of that added risk factor and many others, parents and advocates for young adult health and well-being across educational and public health spheres should do everything possible to prevent young people from experimenting with drugs.
Addiction Treatment: When Talking to Young People About Drugs is Not Enough
The first step parents should take with their sons and daughters is to educate them about the harmful nature of drugs and alcohol. But if their teen children are already experimenting with such substances, it’s possible that just speaking with them about drugs and alcohol won’t be enough to effect change.
If you have a teen or young adult son or daughter who is experimenting with cannabis and hallucinogens and who cannot stop using such drugs on their own, please help them find and enter a residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment center as soon as possible. Such a program can help them get down to the underlying issues that led them to drug use and assist them in developing healthy coping strategies for facing life and succeeding in life without turning to mind-altering substances.
- NIDA. “Marijuana and hallucinogen use among young adults reached all time-high in 2021.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2022. nida.nih.gov
- NIDA. “Cannabis (Marijuana) DrugFacts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2023. nida.nih.gov
- NIDA. “Hallucinogens.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019. nida.nih.gov