Though adolescent use of substances like alcohol and tobacco has been decreasing over time, teen cannabis use has remained relatively consistent since it was legalized in Washington State in 2012, possibly because legalization has helped normalize cannabis use. On this page, find answers to your questions about how often teens use cannabis, how they use it, where they get it, and what the actual norms are.
2021 saw a sudden drop in teen use of cannabis, which may have been caused by increased isolation and parental control during the COVID-19 pandemic. While cannabis use has remained stable among teens, it’s important to note that most teens don’t use cannabis at all. For example, in 2021, 84% of 10th graders reported that they had never tried cannabis.
Cannabis use among 18–20-year-olds has also remained consistent since cannabis was legalized in Washington. However, unlike with teens, there was no subsequent decrease in 2021 for this age group, suggesting their cannabis use may have been less impacted by the pandemic.
Young adults aged 21-25 are the only group that has increased their cannabis use over time, including during the pandemic. Since this age group can legally purchase cannabis, their increase in use may be due to more retail stores opening throughout the state over time.
Some facts about youth use (in 2021):
- The older youth were, the more likely they were to have used cannabis.
- While only 3% of students used cannabis monthly by the end of middle school; this increased to 16% by the end of high school.
- The percentage of students who used cannabis heavily (10+ times per month) increased from 1 to 6% between the end of middle school and the end of high school.
- Use jumps significantly higher after high school, with 24% of 18–20-year-olds and 34% of 21-25 year-olds using monthly.
- People in these age groups also use cannabis more frequently: 17% of 18–20-year-olds and 25% of 21-25 year-olds used cannabis at least weekly.
Frequent cannabis use is associated with more risks, so it is important for parents to continue monitoring their children’s use even as they get older.
- The majority of youth do not use cannabis.
- Cannabis use has remained stable among youth and young adults that are not old enough to legally purchase.
- As youth and young adults get older, they are more likely to use cannabis and to use it more frequently.
Among 8th-12th graders that consumed cannabis in 2021, the most common method for all grade levels was smoking.
Vaporizing, dabbing, and consuming edibles were also popular methods across all grade levels.
As students got older, vaping became more popular, suggesting that older students are more likely to use cannabis products with higher concentrations of THC (these products are often consumed by vaping or dabbing).
- Smoking is the most common way that youth use cannabis.
- Older students are more likely to use cannabis products that have high concentrations of THC.
Middle school students have difficulty getting cannabis, with only 6% of 6th graders and 16% of 8th graders perceiving cannabis as easy to get. However, high schoolers find it much easier, with 32% of 10th graders and 51% of 12th graders perceiving cannabis as easy to get.
Teens report that they get cannabis from friends more than from any other place. Some other ways they get cannabis include: giving money to someone else to get it on their behalf, getting it at home with or without parent permission, getting it from an older sibling, and buying it from a retail store. Stealing from a retail store was uncommon.
Notably, the number of teens who got cannabis at home with permission increased in 2021, which suggests that many parents are not aware of the potential harms of youth cannabis use.
Young adults aged 18-20 also reported they most often get cannabis from their friends, though this approach has become less common over time. This age group also said they got cannabis by giving money to someone else, getting it at a party, getting it from parents with permission, buying it from a retail store, and stealing it from a retail store. Notably, the number of 18–20-year-olds who gave money to someone else, got it from parents with permission, and stole it from a retail store has increased since legalization.
Young adults aged 21-25 primarily bought cannabis from a retail store. This group also said they got cannabis through the same methods 18–20-year-olds did (like getting it at a party or stealing it), but these methods were significantly less common than buying it legally.
- As youth get older, they believe that cannabis products are easier to get.
- Teens and young adults often get cannabis through friends and family, sometimes without permission.
- Young adults most often get cannabis by buying products legally from retail stores.
Many adolescents believe experimenting with or using cannabis regularly will not harm them. Among 10th grade students in 2021, 62% believed there is little or no risk of trying cannabis once or twice, and 28% believed there is little or no risk of using cannabis weekly.
The perception that cannabis use is safe can increase the likelihood of teens trying cannabis and transitioning to regular use. It’s a belief that has become more common among youth since legalization, except in 2021, when more students reported they believed cannabis could cause harm.
- It is common for adolescents to believe that youth cannabis use is not harmful.
- Teen cannabis use may increase in upcoming years because perceptions of harm have been decreasing over time.
Adolescents are less likely to use cannabis if they believe their parents think it’s wrong for them to use it – in other words, parents can influence their kids’ decision to use cannabis.
In 2021, 91% of 10th grade students reported having parents who believe youth cannabis use is wrong. Among these students, only 5% reported using cannabis monthly. By comparison, 32% of 10th grade students who reported having parents who believe youth use is not wrong used cannabis monthly.
In 2021, 58% of 10th grade students reported having a conversation with their parent about not using cannabis. Among these students, only 6% reported using cannabis monthly.
Having conversations with your kids about the risks of cannabis use and why they should not use is effective. Conveying your beliefs about underage cannabis use to your teen can help keep them from using. Learn more about how to have conversations with your teen here.
The majority of teens believe that other teens think youth cannabis use is wrong; however, this perception becomes less common as students get older. While 88% of students in 2021 reported having friends that believe youth cannabis use is wrong by the end of middle school, this dropped to 53% by the end of high school.
Adolescents are significantly less likely to use cannabis if they believe that their peers think it’s wrong for them to use it – for 10th graders, only 1% of this group used cannabis monthly. By comparison, among 10th graders who thought their peers did not believe youth cannabis use was wrong, 24% reported using cannabis monthly.
This suggests that peers have a significant influence over whether a teen uses cannabis. It’s important for parents to talk to their kids about social norms – that most teens don’t use cannabis and don’t think cannabis use is okay – especially as they enter high school.
Despite the fact that most young adults don’t use cannabis, the normalization of cannabis use in general has led them to think they do: only 22% of young adults use cannabis at least weekly, but 68% believe the typical person their age uses weekly or more.
Since legalization, the number of young adults who believe that people their age don’t use cannabis has decreased and the number who believe that people their age use daily has increased significantly. These incorrect beliefs may be a contributing factor to the increase in young adult cannabis use over time.
- What parents say about cannabis matters. Youth are less likely to use cannabis if they believe their parents think it is wrong.
- What peers believe about youth cannabis use also matters. Teens that think their peers don’t approve of cannabis use are less likely to use themselves.
- The normalization and positive perceptions of cannabis use become more common as youth and young adults get older.
- There is a disparity between young adults’ perceptions of peer cannabis use and actual rates of cannabis use, which may be contributing to increased popularity of cannabis in this age group.
Data cited above comes from two surveys conducted in Washington State: The Healthy Youth Survey (HYS) and Young Adult Health Survey (YAHS). These surveys investigate similar cannabis use trends among youth and young adults, but the questions asked in each survey differ, so there are not always comparisons between both groups. Please check out the HYS and YAHS websites to see the most up-to-date findings and learn more.
Authored by Lexi Nims, Cannabis Education & Research Program (CERP). Last updated August 2023.