Cannabis in America

College Students Are Smoking More Marijuana, Fewer Cigarettes

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College students are big partiers–that’s no secret. But their vice of choice may be changing. Marijuana use is up among college students, surpassing cigarettes for the first time. Even more surprisingly, rates of alcohol abuse are also falling.

The study looked at 1,500 students at two and four year universities around the country in order to reach its conclusions. According to the study, habitual cigarette usage among students is down to about five percent, a sizable drop from years past. Just 16 years ago, in 1999, 19 percent of college students reported daily cigarette use. On the other hand, almost six percent of college students use marijuana daily. That’s the highest rate since 1980, when data reporting marijuana use among college students was first reported.

The rate of students using marijuana semi-regularly is also up. According to the Chicago Tribune: “Twenty-one percent of the college students surveyed said they had used marijuana at least once during the previous month, and 34 percent said they had used it in the past year.”

Incidences of dangerous drinking among college students are also decreasing. Binge drinking among college students, defined as having five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks has dropped  from 44 percent in 1984 to 35 percent in 2014. Extreme binge drinking, which is defined as “having had 15 or more drinks in a row at least once in the previous two weeks,” is falling. Only five percent of students reported that behavior in this year’s study.

But this news isn’t unique to college students. This sort of shift is consistent with the general population’s views on cigarettes and marijuana. Now that multiple states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and medical use is all but commonplace in many other states, the use of weed is becoming more and more acceptable. A majority of Americans–a slim majority, but a majority all the same–believe that recreational marijuana should be legalized for adults. Additionally, a majority of Americans believe that alcohol is more dangerous to an individual’s health than marijuana. And possibly most strikingly, almost exactly half of Americans have tried marijuana at some point in their lives.

Of course as weed becomes more acceptable generally nationwide, it’s important that the risks that are still associated with marijuana, particularly for young people, are not overly minimized. Some studies have raised concerns that for young people whose brains are still developing, marijuana can have some negative long term effects.

That being said, overall there’s a lot of good news in the study. Alcohol and cigarettes have long been consumed at worrisome levels by college students. College students will probably always partake in illegal substances, but changes to the ways in which they do so will probably continue to reflect the national zeitgeist when it comes to drug and alcohol acceptance.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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