The growing transition from lifetime marijuana use to frequent use among 12th grade students: U.S. National data from 1976 to 2019

Archived Abstract of Former PSC Researcher

Terry-McElrath, Yvonne M., Patrick M. O'Malley, and Lloyd Johnston. 2020. "The growing transition from lifetime marijuana use to frequent use among 12th grade students: U.S. National data from 1976 to 2019." Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 212: 108064.


More United States adolescents now report high-frequency marijuana use than similar use levels of alcohol or tobacco. Increased high-frequency use raises questions such as (a) is frequent use likelihood growing among adolescents who experiment with use? (b) Is such change observed equally across sex and racial/ethnic subgroups? (c) Have sociodemographic and other covariate associations with frequent use changed over time?


Data were obtained from 649,505 12th grade students participating in the cross-sectional, nationally-representative Monitoring the Future study from 1976 to 2019. Historical trends were modeled for any and frequent (20+ occasions) past 30-day marijuana use among all students and lifetime users, and lifetime user sex and racial/ethnic subgroups. Multivariable logistic regression estimates from 1989 to 1993 (lowest prevalence years) versus 2015−2019 (most recent years) were compared to examine covariate association changes with frequent use.


Among all students, recent linear trends in any and frequent marijuana use were not significantly different from zero (0.023 [SE 0.156] and 0.036 [0.073], respectively); frequent use among lifetime users increased (0.233 [0.107], p = 0.048). Among lifetime users, the increase was stronger for male than female students, and for minority versus White students. Significant association changes with race/ethnicity, parental education, and perceived risk were observed.


The proportion of adolescent lifetime marijuana users reporting current frequent marijuana use increased, and is now at near-record levels. Increases were particularly strong among males and minority students. There appears to be an increasing likelihood that adolescents who experiment with marijuana use may progress to frequent use.


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