Study finds increase in college kids using marijuana, hallucinogens over alcohol

Posted at 8:52 AM, Oct 01, 2021

(WXYZ) — Classes are in session at universities across the country, and we're learning that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on substance abuse use among college students.

Marijuana use is at a 40-year high, and there are big changes in the usage of alcohol and hallucinogens.

While some changes on campus may last, other changes are expected to go up in smoke.

With marijuana legalization, a growing number of people are lighting up. That includes a growing number of college-age students. At Om of Medicine Cannabis Retailer, they're noticing that growth.

"Last year there weren't classes, it was all virtual. So this summer we did see an uptick," Jay Klotz, the GM of Om said.

That uptick is a reflection of the trends nationwide.

"Cannabis use is among the highest it's been in the past 40 years," John Schulenberg, U of M Psychology Professor, said.

Schulenberg is also the lead investigator for the University of Michigan's annual national monitoring the future study.

The study finds daily marijuana use – defined at use on 20 or more occasions in the past 30 days – rose 7.9% in 2020 among 19-22-year-old full-time college students.

Use was even higher among non-college students in the same age group – at least 13%.

Use of hallucinogens like mushrooms was at the highest level since 1982.

"The perception that regular cannabis use is harmful has been going down. And the same is true for hallucinogen use," Schulenberg said.

But alcohol use bucked the trend thanks to the pandemic. 30-day alcohol use and reports of having been drunk were both down. and two-week binge drinking set a 40-year low.

"It's very likely a pandemic effect because they had less social time with your friends," he said.

But now, Schulenberg says with more students back on campus, the alcohol use is likely to bounce back. That's a sentiment reflected by students on campus.

The folks at Om of Medicine don't think all of that alcohol use will come back. They say marijuana use replaces other substances like alcohol and opioids.

"67% of users with cannabis had a decrease in opioid use. So it's definitely a use. It's an exit drug, not a gateway drug," Klotz said.

Schulenberg says opioid use is down in this study. He says he is concerned about the daily use of substances including marijuana in this age group.

"We find that heavy marijuana use is associated with poor college performance and also dropping out," Schulenberg said.

Jay Joshi with Om of Medicine pushes back against those negatives associated with cannabis use. He has a doctorate in pharmacy and calls cannabis neuroprotective and says it improves memory in the long run.

For concerned parents of college-age students, he has never seen a case of death from cannabis overdose, something that can't be said for alcohol or opioids.

Schulenberg said with the changes in the way society now views marijuana and a change in who admits to using it, he's interested to see if the consequences of marijuana will change, too.