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1 in 17 college students smoking marijuana daily or near-daily

Daily marijuana use among the nation's college students is on the rise, surpassing daily cigarette smoking for the first time in 2014.

ANN ARBOR—A series of national surveys of U.S. college students, as part of the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future study, shows that marijuana use has been growing slowly on the nation's campuses since 2006.

Daily or near-daily marijuana use was reported by 5.9 percent of college students in 2014—the highest rate since 1980, the first year that complete college data were available in the study. This rate of use is up from 3.5 percent in 2007. In other words, one in every 17 college students is smoking marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis, defined as use on 20 or more occasions in the prior 30 days.

Other measures of marijuana use have also shown an increase: The percent using marijuana once or more in the prior 30 days rose from 17 percent in 2006 to 21 percent in 2014. Use in the prior 12 months rose from 30 percent in 2006 to 34 percent in 2014. Both of these measures leveled in 2014.

Much of this increase may be due to the fact that marijuana use at any level has come to be seen as dangerous by fewer adolescents and young adults. For example, while 55 percent of all 19-to-22-year-old high school graduates saw regular marijuana use as dangerous in 2006, only 35 percent saw it as dangerous by 2014.

The study also found that the proportion of college students using any illicit drug, including marijuana, in the prior 12 months rose from 34 percent in 2006 to 41 percent in 2013 before falling off some to 39 percent in 2014. That seven-year increase was driven primarily by the increase in marijuana use, though marijuana was not the only drug on the rise.

The proportion of college students using any illicit drug other than marijuana in the prior 12 months increased from 15 percent in 2008—the recent low point—to 21 percent in 2014, including a continuing increase in 2014. The increase appears attributable mostly to college students' increased use of amphetamines (without a doctor's orders) and use of ecstasy.

These and other results about drug use come from Monitoring the Future, an annual survey that has been reporting on U.S. college students' substance use of all kinds for 35 years. The study began in 1980 and is conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research with funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one of the National Institutes of Health.

College students' nonmedical use of amphetamines in the prior 12 months nearly doubled between 2008 (when 5.7 percent said they used) and 2012 (when 11.1 percent used), before leveling at 10.1 percent in 2014.

Alcohol and tobacco

Use of a number of licit drugs is also covered in the MTF surveys, including alcoholic beverages and various tobacco products.

While 63 percent of college students in 2014 said that they have had an alcoholic beverage at least once in the prior 30 days, that figure is down a bit from 67 percent in 2000 and down considerably from 82 percent in 1981. The proportion of the nation's college students saying they have been drunk in the past 30 days was 43 percent in 2014, down some from 48 percent in 2006.

Occasions of heavy or binge drinking—here defined as having five or more drinks in a row on at least one occasion in the prior two weeks—have consistently had a higher prevalence among college students than among their fellow high school classmates who are not in college.

Still, between 1980 and 2014, college students' rates of such drinking declined 9 percentage points from 44 percent to 35 percent, while their noncollege peers declined 12 percentage points from 41 percent to 29 percent, and high school seniors' rates declined 22 percentage points from 41 percent to 19 percent.

Of particular concern is the extent of extreme binge drinking in college, first defined as having 10 or more drinks in a row at least once in the prior two weeks, and then defined as having 15 or more drinks in a row in that same time interval. Based on the combined years 2005–2014, the estimates for these two behaviors among college students are 13 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

Cigarette smoking continued to decline among the nation's college students in 2014, when 13 percent said they had smoked one or more cigarettes in the prior 30 days, down from 14 percent in 2013 and from the recent high of 31 percent in 1999—a decline of more than half. As for daily smoking, only 5 percent indicated smoking at that level, compared with 19 percent in 1999—a drop of nearly three fourths in the number of college students smoking daily.

Unfortunately, the appreciable declines in cigarette smoking have been accompanied by some increases in the use of other forms of tobacco or nicotine. Smoking tobacco using a hookah (a type of water pipe) in the prior 12 months rose substantially among college students, from 26 percent in 2013 to 33 percent in 2014.

In 2014, the use of e-cigarettes in the past 30 days stood at 9.7 percent, while use of flavored little cigars stood at 9.8 percent, of regular little cigars at 8.6 percent and of large cigars at 8.4 percent. The study will continue tracking the extent to which these alternate forms of tobacco use are changing in popularity, not only among college students, but also among their age peers not in college and among secondary school students. (SOURCE: University of Michigan)

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