Results of a recent study showed that college students are more likely to choose cannabis than tobacco. This is according to an article published this month in the journal Pediatrics.

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Based on an analysis of data obtained from the 2002-2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Dr. Satomi Odani and researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were able to confirm an interesting trend among young people.

The research showed that young adults and college students are exclusively using cannabis at a significantly higher rate than they are smoking cigarettes, and exclusive tobacco use among college students is on a steady decline.

According to the conclusion of Odani et al., “Exclusive marijuana use was higher among college than noncollege individuals, both for past-30-day (11.5% vs 8.6%) and past-12-month use (14.6% vs 10.8%).” To put it into better context, let’s compare that to alcohol.

A survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2018 found that, for the first time, the rate of first-time binge drinking among college students fell below 30%.

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With binge drinking and tobacco smoking both on the decline, the reciprocal increase in cannabis use is perhaps easier to explain –students could be replacing one substance with the other - however, the results also support the conclusion of previous research.

In 2015, the Monitoring the Future Panel Study, conducted annually by the University of Michigan, found that the rate of daily cannabis use among college students was at its highest in three decades, potentially owing to “an ongoing decline in perceptions of risk of harm from regular marijuana use.”

The method of marijuana consumption was not included in this study, so whether college students are more likely to smoke, vape, or ingest cannabis still remains unclear.

In a commentary responding to the study, published in the same issue of Pediatrics, Walley et al. praised the decline in tobacco use, saying, “This decline in smoked tobacco is encouraging because one of the greatest public health successes in the United States is the decrease in combusted tobacco use, specifically cigarettes as seen in this 15-year study.”

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In addition, the commentary highlights, “When considering the intersection of adolescent and young adult use of tobacco products and marijuana, another factor that should be considered is the dramatic rise in the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).”

Indeed, the widespread controversy over potential health concerns associated with vaping has generated considerable concern amongst parents and administrators alike.

Several years later, in 2018, the annual study saw a huge increase in the use of vaping products, including those intended for both cannabis and nicotine.

According to the study’s principal investigator, Dr. John Schulenberg, “This doubling in vaping marijuana among college students is one of the greatest one-year proportional increases we have seen among the multitude of substances we measure since the study began over 40 years ago.”

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed back in September, Dr. Schulenberg said, “There’s this sense…it’s culturally approved. There’s this question of ‘how bad can it really be?'”