Changes in self-reported cannabis use in the United States from 1979 to 2022

Addiction. 2024 May 22. doi: 10.1111/add.16519. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Background and aims: Multiple countries are considering revising cannabis policies. This study aimed to measure long-term trends in cannabis use in the United States and compare them with alcohol use.

Design and setting: Secondary analysis of United States general population survey data.

Participants: The national surveys had a total of 1 641 041 participants across 27 surveys from 1979 to 2022.

Measurements: Rates of use reported to the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health and its predecessors are described, as are trends in days of use reported. Four milepost years are contrasted: 1979 (first available data and end of relatively liberal policies of the 1970s), 1992 (end of 12 years of conservative Reagan-Bush era policies), 2008 (last year before the Justice Department signaled explicit federal non-interference with state-level legalizations) and 2022 (most recent data available).

Findings: Reported cannabis use declined to a nadir in 1992, with partial recovery through 2008, and substantial increases since then, particularly for measures of more intensive use. Between 2008 and 2022, the per capita rate of reporting past-year use increased by 120%, and days of use reported per capita increased by 218% (in absolute terms from the annual equivalent of 2.3 to 8.1 billion days per year). From 1992 to 2022, there was a 15-fold increase in the per capita rate of reporting daily or near daily use. Whereas the 1992 survey recorded 10 times as many daily or near daily alcohol as cannabis users (8.9 vs. 0.9 M), the 2022 survey, for the first time, recorded more daily and near daily users of cannabis than alcohol (17.7 vs. 14.7 M). Far more people drink, but high-frequency drinking is less common. In 2022, the median drinker reported drinking on 4-5 days in the past month, versus 15-16 days in the past month for cannabis. In 2022, past-month cannabis consumers were almost four times as likely to report daily or near daily use (42.3% vs. 10.9%) and 7.4 times more likely to report daily use (28.2% vs. 3.8%).

Conclusions: Long-term trends in cannabis use in the United States parallel corresponding changes in cannabis policy, with declines during periods of greater restriction and growth during periods of policy liberalization. A growing share of cannabis consumers report daily or near daily use, and their numbers now exceed the number of daily and near daily drinkers.

Keywords: alcohol; cannabis; daily and near‐daily use; drug policy; legalization; prevalence.