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Study: Marijuana use among college students continues to rise

woman smoking a joint
Nearly 40 percent of full-time college students report having smoked marijuana at least once in the past year.

A new University of Michigan study finds that marijuana use among college students continues to rise in the U.S.

The latest report from U of M's Monitoring the Future program finds that in 2016, marijuana use among full-time college students was at the highest level since 1987.

According to the study, 39 percent of full-time college students reported using marijuana at least once in the previous 12 months, while 22 percent reported using it at least once in the last 30 days. The latest findings show a steady increase since 2006, when percentages for the same categories were reported at 30 and 17 percent.

The program's current principal investigator John Schulenberg says marijuana use among high school seniors has stayed steady in recent years. He says that gives some insight to the increase seen in college students.

"Going off to college, being away from parents, being off on their own, having more flexibility in their daily schedule — that combination, in addition to being with other friends in the same boat, is why we think we see this uptick in marijuana use, as well as alcohol use, during this transition into college," he said.

Schulenberg says another contributing factor is likely the changing perceptions of marijuana as the country moves closer and closer to legalization. In 2016, only 30 percent of people age 19 to 22 perceived regular marijuana use as a behavior that carries great risk.

"In 1991, quite a few thought that regular marijuana use was risky. That's when we saw record lows of marijuana use among college students. That has since flipped. Now, we're at a point where record low numbers of college students believe regular use is not that risky," he said.

Though marijuana use has continued to increase, the study says use of other illicit drugs among college students has leveled off in recent years.

Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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