NEW YORK (MainStreet) – A new government report finds marijuana usage is on the rise as fewer people use other illicit drugs like methamphetamines and cocaine.
The report, released Thursday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, shows that 22.6 million Americans, or 8.9% of the over-12 population, were using illicit drugs as of 2010, up from 8% of the population in 2008. Younger Americans in particular increased their drug use: Among the 18-25 set, drug use rose from 19.6% in 2008 to 21.5% in 2010.
A closer look at the data gives some reason for optimism, though. The increased rate of drug usage seems to be entirely attributed to a rise in the use of marijuana – which has been decriminalized in some states and is legal for medical use in others – while drugs like methamphetamines and cocaine have become considerably less popular.
From 2007 to 2010, the percentage of Americans using marijuana increased from 5.8% to 6.9%. Meanwhile, the number of Americans using methamphetamines dropped by almost half from 2006 to 2010, going from 731,000 users to just 353,000 nationwide. And cocaine usage dropped from 2.4 million users to just 1.6 million over the same time period. Drinking and tobacco usage also dropped among teenagers.
Despite this good news, the report does express considerable concern over the rise in marijuana usage and points to efforts to legalize medical marijuana in some states as the culprit.
"Emerging research reveals potential links between state laws permitting access to smoked medical marijuana and higher rates of marijuana use," said Gil Kerlikowske, director of national drug control policy, in a press release.
The director’s office pointed to a recent Columbia University study showing that marijuana use is indeed higher in states where the drug has been legalized for medical purposes, though rates of abuse and dependence are no higher among users in those states. The study acknowledged that it’s not clear whether a causal relationship exists, and a spokesman for the office did not speculate as to the specific reasons for the link.
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