August 28, 2023

Study finds that marijuana and hallucinogen use reach historic highs among U.S. adults


Use of marijuana and hallucinogens among adults 19 to 50 reached an all-time high in 2022, according to the Monitoring the Future Panel Study, which is sponsored annually by the National Institutes of Health.

Furthermore, the study found that alcohol use among adults ages 35 to 50 has been steadily increasing over the last 10 years, with the prevalence of binge drinking hitting a record high in 2022 in that age group.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse director Nora Volkow, the results show: “Substance use is not limited to teens and young adults, and these data help us understand how people use drugs across the lifespan.”

Since 1975, the MTF study has been tracking substance use behaviors in people from high school through their 60s, in effect, covering most of the working-age population of the United States. So, the latest results are concerning when we consider how they may be impacting workplace health and safety.

Workplace Impact

In the case of marijuana use, for example, the Quest Diagnostic Drug Testing Index (DTI) suggests a direct correlation between an increase in use overall and the impact on the workplace:

“Positivity rates for marijuana in the general US workforce, based on more than 6 million urine tests, continued an upward climb, increasing 8.3% (3.6% in 2020 versus 3.9% in 2021), the highest positivity rate ever reported in the DTI. Over 5 years, positivity for marijuana in the general US workforce increased 50% (2.6% in 2017 versus 3.9% in 2021).

“Based on the data, there is a possibility that more job seekers and current employees testing positive, means more drug-impaired workers on the job, a potential threat to workplace safety. This correlation is evident from the data, specifically with post-accident drug test positivity rates. Over the last 5 years in general U.S. workforce urine drug testing… post-accident positivity increased 26% (7.7% in 2017 versus 9.7% in 2021). Similarly, in federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce urine drug testing… post-accident positivity increased 41.9% (3.1% in 2017 versus 4.4% in 2021).”

These numbers are backed up by the National Institute on Drug Abuse NIDA which found that employees who tested positive for marijuana on a pre-employment urine drug test had 55% more industrial accidents, 85% more injuries, and 75% greater absenteeism compared with those who tested negative for marijuana use.

The data reconfirms that substance use is a problem for workplaces and that workplace drug and alcohol screening programs and education are critically important. As drug use (and alcohol use among some segments of the population) continues to increase employers need to understand that it is in their interest to support drug-free workplaces, even as drug laws are changing, and businesses struggle with heightened economic and labor pressures.

Key findings of the MTF study

  • 44% of young adults reported using marijuana in the past year, more than 1 in 10 reported using marijuana almost every day, and more than 1 in 5 have vaped marijuana. Hallucinogen use has more than doubled in 10 years, now at 8% in 2022 (compared to 3% in 2012).
  • 28% of adults aged 35 to 50 used marijuana in the past year, compared to 17% in 2017 and 13% in 2012, and 4% used hallucinogens, compared to about 1% in 2017 and 2012. Nearly 30% of adults in this age group reported having five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks.
  • Among adults aged 19 to 30, 8% reported past-year use of hallucinogens, significantly higher than five years ago (5% in 2017) and 10 years ago (3% in 2012). Types of hallucinogens reported by participants included LSD, MDMA, mescaline, peyote, shrooms or psilocybin, and PCP.
  • Past-year hallucinogen use reached historically high prevalence among adults 35 to 50 years old, reported by 4% in 2022. The prevalence reported in 2022 was also a substantial increase compared to the year before (2% in 2021) and five and 10 years ago (no greater than 1% in both 2017 and 2012).
  • Over the past decade, rates of alcohol use – including past-month use, daily drinking, and binge drinking – have shown an overall downward trend for adults 19 to 30 years old. Alcohol use among adults aged 35 to 50 has shown a gradual increase over the past 10 years, with past-year drinking increasing from 83% in 2012 to 85% in 2022. Binge drinking in this older group reached its highest levels (29% in 2022), and increased over the past year, five years, and 10 years (26% in 2021; 25% in 2017; 23% in 2012).