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Marijuana and hallucinogen use, binge drinking reached record highs in middle-aged adults, survey finds

<i>Charles Wollertz/iStockphoto/Getty Images</i><br/>Adults ages 35 to 50 are using marijuana at record levels
Charles Wollertz/iStockphoto/Getty Images
Charles Wollertz/iStockphoto/Getty Images
Adults ages 35 to 50 are using marijuana at record levels

By Giri Viswanathan, CNN

(CNN) — Last year, more middle-aged adults were binge drinking, using marijuana or consuming hallucinogens than ever before, according to a new report. Cannabis use surged among young adults under 30, alongside historic rates of vaping, as well.

The new data comes from the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future panel study, which tracks substance use among adults between 19 and 60 years old. Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the survey records data from a cohort of about 28,500 participants across the country each year.

“Substance use is not limited to teens and young adults, and these data help us understand how people use drugs across the lifespan,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a news release. “Understanding these trends is a first step, and it is crucial that research continues to illuminate how substance use and related health impacts may change over time.”

More than ever, older adults are using marijuana, hallucinogens and vape products

According to the 2022 survey results, marijuana use was reported by around 44% of adults under 30, up from 28% a decade ago. More people also used marijuana daily than ever before, nearly doubling from 2012.

Cannabis use has also been spiking among adults ages 35 to 50; 28% used marijuana in 2022, up from 17% five years ago.

For Dr. Joseph Palamar, an associate professor and substance use expert in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone, it isn’t surprising that marijuana use has continued to climb, given the increasing acceptance and availability of the drug in many states. What Palamar, who wasn’t involved in the new study, found especially notable is that marijuana use among middle-aged adults is nearly the same as that reported by high school seniors.

The trend could be because interested adults are trying the drug for the first time, or because younger marijuana users – those who historically have used it more frequently – are entering higher age brackets, Palamar explained.

“It looks like we’re reaching a point in which parents and grandparents are almost as likely to smoke weed as the kids,” he wrote in an email to CNN.

Middle-aged adults also used hallucinogens such as LSD, MDMA, peyote and psilocybin at record rates, according to the study. Five years ago, less than 1% used hallucinogens, compared with 4% in 2022. Still, 8% of adults under 30 used hallucinogens – double the rate of their older counterparts and a figure that has steadily climbed over the past few years.

According to the data, the growth in hallucinogen use is being driven by drugs other than LSD. There are a number of natural and synthetic hallucinogen alternatives, but two substances stand out, Palamar said: psilocybin and ketamine. His own research has found that psilocybin, also known as shrooms, is becoming more popular in clubs and dance festivals. Ketamine was being consumed similarly.

“There has been widespread media coverage of its effects on treating depression,” Palamar said of ketamine. “We recently found that through 2022, law enforcement seizures of ketamine skyrocketed, and use also increased among nightclub and dance festival attendees. We really need to keep our eye on both ketamine and psilocybin.”

Over 1 in 5 young adults each reported vaping marijuana and nicotine in 2022, the highest levels yet recorded, the study says. While vaping rates have remained about steady among middle-aged adults, the number of young adults who vape has grown over the past five years, with nicotine vaping nearly double the rate recorded 5 years ago.

Binge drinking on the rise for middle-aged people

Among young adults, however, alcohol use has steadily declined over the past decade. But that’s not been the case for adults between 35 and 50.

In the older group, binge drinking – consuming five or more drinks in a row – reached its highest levels yet. Nearly 30% of those participants reported binge drinking, reflecting a consistent increase in rates since 2012.

The study also found that the proportion of people who used cigarettes, most narcotics and sedatives has declined over the past 10 years.

“Behaviors and public perception of drug use can shift rapidly, based on drug availability and other factors,” said Dr. Megan Patrick, a research professor at the University of Michigan and principal investigator of the study, in the news release. “It’s important to track this so that public health professionals and communities can be prepared to respond.”

Shifting attitudes towards alcohol

While binge drinking may be on the rise among middle-age adults, new results from a separate survey show changing views on alcohol across the country.

A record 39% of Americans say that moderate drinking — one to two drinks a day — is bad for health, according to a recent Gallup poll. That’s an 11% increase since 2018 — the last time the poll was conducted — and younger adults are driving the shifting attitudes around alcohol.

According to the 2023 Gallup data, over half of adults under 35 believed that drinking is moderation was bad for health — an 18% increase from 2018. For middle aged adults between 35 and 54, that belief increased by 13%. Only 3% more adults over 55 thought that moderate drinking to be a health detriment.

The poll, which was conducted in July, comes months after the World Health Organization released a statement indicating that no level of alcohol consumption is safe for health.

Women were more likely than men to view moderate drinking as harmful, as were respondents from the West and Midwest.

Still, Americans believe that alcohol is far less harmful than tobacco products, the poll found. 76% viewed cigarettes as “very harmful,” compared with 30% who thought the same about alcohol.

Marijuana, though, alarmed the fewest participants: only about 23% considered it “very harmful.” Four in 10 considered it “not harmful at all.”

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Article Topic Follows: Health

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