Marijuana Use in Adolescence
Marijuana is the most commonly used substance among adolescents after alcohol. Young people who use marijuana may experience poor health outcomes. Unfortunately, fewer adolescents believe that marijuana use is a threat than in the past. This belief may undermine prevention efforts.
How Common is Adolescent Marijuana Use?
Current Use and Trends
Marijuana use is more common among older adolescents than younger youth. In 2016, the following percentages of young people reported using marijuana at least once in the past month:
- Five percent of students in 8th grade,
- Fourteen percent of students in 10th grade,
- Twenty-three percent of students in 12th grade,1 and
- Twenty-two percent of college students and young adults.2
Unlike drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco, current marijuana use among adolescents has increased in the past 10 years for students in 12th grade. Current substance use is defined as having used the substance (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana) in the last 30 days. Figure 1 shows that both current alcohol and cigarette use among students in 12th grade declined by at least 10 percentage points (44% to 33% and 22% to 10%, respectively) while marijuana use increased by four percentage points (19% to 23%) from 2007 to 2017.1,2
Figure 1. Trends in Alcohol, Cigarette and Marijuana Use: 30-day prevalence in 12th graders
Source: Johnston, L. D., Miech, R. A., O'Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M.E. (2018). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2017: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Retrieved from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2017.pdf
Vaping is a popular and relatively new way to use marijuana and other substances. To vape marijuana, a person breathes in vapor, aerosol, or mist that contains hash oil or other forms of cannabis through an electronic or battery-powered device. Vaping devices include e-cigarettes, including “mods,” and e-pens. These devices may not be easily identifiable as e-cigarettes and can resemble other electronic devices such as a USB flash drive.
In 2017, a national survey began asking high school students about specific substances that they vaped: nicotine, marijuana, and “just flavoring.” Among students in 8th grade, two percent reported vaping marijuana in the past 30 days, compared to four percent of students in 10th grade students, and five percent of students in 12th grade. More students across all grade levels reported vaping nicotine or flavored oil than reported vaping marijuana.3
What Adolescents Think about Marijuana
Adolescents typically do not think using marijuana is as risky as using other substances. This belief has been steadily growing. When asked, “How much do you think people risk harming themselves (physically or in other ways) if they smoke marijuana regularly,” less than one-third of high school seniors responded that there was a “great risk” in 2016. Ten years ago, more than half of high school seniors (58 percent) believed it was a great risk.1
Students’ disapproval of other people using marijuana regularly has also declined. In 2006, 83 percent of high school seniors disapproved of people 18 years or older smoking marijuana regularly, but only 69 percent disapproved in 2016.1
However, much variation exists among states in marijuana use and their views of the risks among youth ages 12 to 17.
Content last reviewed on April 8, 2019