What is the scope of marijuana use in the United States?
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug (19.8 million past-month users) according to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).3 That year, marijuana was used by 81.0 percent of current illicit drug users (defined as having used a drug at some time in the 30 days before the survey) and was the only drug used by 64.7 percent of them.
Marijuana use is widespread among adolescents and young adults. According to the Monitoring the Future survey—an annual survey of drug use and attitudes among the Nation’s middle and high school students—most measures of marijuana use by 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders have held steady in the past few years following several years of increase in the previous decade. Teens’ perceptions of the risks of marijuana use have steadily declined over the past decade, possibly related to increasing public debate about legalizing or loosening restrictions on marijuana for medicinal and recreational use. In 2014, 11.7 percent of 8th-graders reported marijuana use in the past year and 6.5 percent were current users. Among 10th-graders, 27.3 percent had used marijuana in the past year and 16.6 percent were current users. Rates of use among 12th-graders were higher still: 35.1 percent had used marijuana during the year prior to the survey and 21.2 percent were current users; 5.8 percent said they used marijuana daily or near-daily.4
Medical emergencies possibly related to marijuana use have also increased. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), a system for monitoring the health impact of drugs, estimated that in 2011, there were nearly 456,000 drug-related emergency department visits in the United States in which marijuana use was mentioned in the medical record (a 21 percent increase over 2009). About two-thirds of patients were male and 13 percent were between the ages of 12 and 17.5 It is unknown whether this increase is due to increased use, increased potency of marijuana (amount of THC it contains), or other factors. It should be noted, however, that mentions of marijuana in medical records do not necessarily indicate that these emergencies were directly related to marijuana intoxication.
This series of reports simplifies the science of research findings for the educated lay public, legislators, educational groups, and practitioners. The series reports on research findings of national interest.