Federal Survey: Over 50 million Americans Used Cannabis in 2021

Written by Lydia Kariuki

A recently published survey that was conducted by federal agencies has indicated that 52.5 million Americans used cannabis in 2021. Cannabis is federally illegal and results from this survey confirm that cannabis is the most widely used illicit substance in the US. In comparison, 133 million adults used alcohol, which is federally legal, in 2021. The survey was conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as part of its yearly  National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

The 2021 NSDUH used a multimodal approach towards data collection where respondents could either complete the survey in person or online. The survey not only covered marijuana use but included other frequently abused substances such as alcohol, tobacco, prescription meds, and illicit substances including heroin,  cocaine, and hallucinogens. Here are a few highlights from the survey:

  • 1 in five Americans (12 years and older) used cannabis in 2021

  • 10% of adolescents (12-17 years) used cannabis in 2021

  • 35% of Americans (18- 25 years) used cannabis in 2021

  • 17% of Americans (26 years and older) used cannabis in 2021

  • Marijuana was the most widely used illicit substance in the US in 2021

The survey used Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) to assess substance use disorder (SUD); depression and suicidal thoughts. Cannabis use among adolescents has been a major concern for the federal agency. However, the report noted SUD across all demographics. “Millions of Americans young and old faced mental health and substance use challenges – sometimes both at once – during the second year of the pandemic,” said Xavier Becerra, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary.

About the author

Lydia Kariuki