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Marijuana use on the rise among young adults, fiftysomethings

September 09, 2013|By Emily Alpert
  • Though marijuana use is on the rise, many other drugs have dwindled in use or stayed about the same, according to a national survey.
Though marijuana use is on the rise, many other drugs have dwindled in use… (Stephen Brashear / Getty…)

The growing popularity of marijuana has propelled a rise in drug use among Americans, including those in their 50s and 60s, a recently released national survey shows.

Marijuana remains the most common drug, and it increased in popularity from 2007 to 2012, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found. Rising marijuana use helped drive up drug use among young adults, more than a fifth of whom said they had used "illicit drugs" in the previous month. Almost 19% of adults ages 18 to 25 had recently used marijuana.

Drug use also rose among adults ages 50 to 64, the study found. The surge was especially strong among Americans in their late 50s, whose rates of illicit drug use grew from 1.9% up to 6.6% between 2002 and 2012. Researchers believe the increase is largely because baby boomers, who were more likely to use drugs than earlier generations, are aging into that group.

Marijuana use has increased as legalization wins more support from Americans, with a majority telling the Pew Research Center in a poll this year that the drug should be legal. Though marijuana use was on the rise, many other drugs have dwindled in use or stayed about the same: Cocaine was less common in 2012 than in 2006, when only 1% of Americans said they had used it in the last month. Less than 640,000 people said they had started using it in the last year, compared with 1 million new users a decade earlier.

Methamphetamine use fell slightly, while hallucinogens were used about as frequently as a decade earlier, the study showed. There was also little change in Americans using psychotherapeutic drugs for reasons other than those prescribed.

The new study also examined alcohol and tobacco use. Underage drinking fell between 2002 and 2012: Last year, less than a quarter of underage people said they drank alcohol in the last month, compared with 28.8% of underage people a decade earlier.

Smoking has also declined among teenagers, though a separate survey recently showed that electronic cigarettes had become increasingly popular with teens.

The annual survey includes about 70,000 teens and adults and is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Most of the questions are answered privately on a computer; in some instances an interviewer asks a question out loud and enters what the person says.

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