This year, high school drug use rates in the United States are the lowest ever recorded.
In fact, every year for the past four years has set a record for the lowest monthly drug use rates by high school seniors.
The Monitoring the Future Survey has been administered to 12th graders in the United States since 1975. In 1991, 10th graders and 8th graders were added to the survey for most questions.
Only 4.8 percent of 12th graders surveyed had used a drug other than marijuana in the previous 30 days, the lowest figure recorded. The 3.7 percent of 10th graders using a drug other than marijuana monthly was also the lowest figure recorded.
Drug use by 8th graders stands at 3.5 percent, a figure that is below the recorded average but has been increasing over the past five years.
All major drugs surveyed show some of the lowest figures ever recorded for monthly teenage use over the past five years.
Teen Marijuana Use Not Rising, Despite Softening Attitudes & Adult Legalization
When it comes to marijuana, monthly use rates among all grade levels remained fairly steady. The figures for 2020 are roughly at or below decade averages.
This is despite young people’s declining fear of and disapproval of marijuana use. Over the past five years (data for 2020’s 12th graders is unavailable due to small sample sizes, a consequence of COVID–19), the survey has recorded the fewest teenagers who believe there is a “great risk” to regular marijuana use or “strongly disapprove” of that regular use.
Also recorded over the past five years are the lowest rates of teenagers who believe it would be “easy” or “fairly easy” to acquire marijuana.
Teen Alcohol & Tobacco Use Also Low, But Vaping on the Rise
When it comes to other legal drugs, the same trends are seen. Use of alcohol and reports of being drunk within the past 30 days and use of cigarettes over the past five years are also the lowest rates recorded.
What’s the reason for the declines? The correlation of increasing marijuana legalization and declining teen drug use doesn’t prove any causation. But the fears of prohibitionists that increased access and tolerance of adult marijuana use would lead to more teen marijuana use, and then, like a gateway, to more teen drug use, seem to be completely unfounded.
Personally, I believe that more than anything, increased online activity has made the difference. Whether it is reading personal stories from other drug users on social media, researching factual information on drugs online, or playing video games, teens these days have more information and things to do than “get messed up.”