Nearly Half of U.S. Adults Have Tried Cannabis

4.2 min readPublished On: August 17th, 2021By

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The percentage of U.S. adults who say they have tried cannabis has ticked up to 49%, the highest Gallup has measured to date. More than 50 years ago, just 4% said they had tried the drug, but that percentage surpassed 20% in 1977, 30% in 1985 and 40% in 2015.

A much smaller proportion of U.S. adults, 12%, say they “smoke cannabis.” The percentage of current marijuana smokers has been steady in recent years, varying between 11% and 13% after increasing from the 7% Gallup initially measured in 2013.

Tried

Line graph. Trends in cannabis usage among U.S. adults. In 1969, 4% of U.S. adults told Gallup they had ever tried cannabis. The percentage increased to 11% in 1972, 24% in 1977, 33% in 1985, and has been 44% or higher since 2015, including 49% this year. Gallup first asked Americans whether they smoke marijuana in 2013. 7% said they did. The percentage has been between 11% and 13% since then.

The results are based on Gallup’s annual Consumption Habits poll, conducted July 6-21.

Generational patterns explain the increase in marijuana experimentation over the last five decades. The oldest Americans living today, those born before 1945 whom Gallup calls “traditionalists,” are much less likely than those in other birth cohorts to have tried marijuana, with just 19% saying they have done so. That compares with about half of millennials (51%), Generation Xers (49%) and baby boomers (50%).

These generational figures are based on combined data from the 2015-2021 Consumption Habits surveys. Gallup does not yet have sufficient data to provide reliable estimates for Generation Z, the oldest of whom are 24 years old now.

Comparing the most recent generational figures with data from the 1980s and 1990s finds little change in the rate of marijuana experimentation among baby boomers and Gen X. Combined data from the 1985 and 1999 Gallup polls shows that 44% of members of Gen X and 50% of baby boomers had tried marijuana as of then.

During those years, a lower proportion of traditionalists than today had tried marijuana (10%). The increase in that group today compared with the 1980s and 1990s probably reflects the dying off of many of the oldest members of that generation, who were much less likely than younger traditionalists to have tried marijuana.

Percentages of Americans in Each Generation Who Have Tried Marijuana, Over Time
Keeping in mind that all of your answers in this survey are confidential, have you, yourself, ever happened to try marijuana?
1985-1999 2015-2021
% %
All U.S. adults 34 45
Millennials (born 1981-1996) n/a 51
Gen X (born 1965-1990) 44 49
Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) 50 50
Traditionalists (born before 1946) 10 19
Gallup did not have sufficient data on millennials in 1985-1999 as the oldest members of that generation did not turn 18 until 1998. Gallup does not have sufficient data to provide reliable estimates for the portion of Generation Z (born after 1996) that has reached adulthood.
GALLUP

Thus, with little change in generational rates of marijuana experimentation over time, the increase in the proportion of U.S. adults who have tried marijuana mainly reflects millennials replacing older traditionalists in the U.S. adult population.

Younger Americans Most Likely to Smoke Cannabis

While Americans born during the Baby Boom era or later differ little in whether they have tried marijuana, younger Americans are more likely than older Americans to say they currently smoke marijuana. The combined 2015-2021 data shows that 20% of millennials smoke marijuana, compared with 11% of Gen Xers, 9% of baby boomers and 1% of traditionalists. These age differences, which have been consistent in Gallup’s polling, indicate that, at least historically, people tend to try marijuana at a younger age but as they get older, most no longer continue smoking it.

In addition to the age differences in current marijuana smoking, Gallup has also found differences by gender, religiosity, political orientation and education:

  • Sixteen percent of men, versus 9% of women, smoke marijuana.
  • Just 3% of Americans who attend religious services weekly, and 6% who attend monthly, say they smoke marijuana. In contrast, 19% who seldom or never attend religious services do.
  • Twenty-two percent of political liberals and 15% of Democrats regularly use marijuana, compared with 6% of conservatives and 7% of Republicans.
  • The rate of marijuana consumption is 5% among those with a postgraduate education, compared with 14% of those with a four-year college degree or less.

Bottom Line

The percentage of Americans who have tried marijuana has steadily climbed in recent decades. Soon it should reach 50%, but it may not get much higher than that given the rates of experimentation have been steady around 50% in Gen Xers and among baby boomers. Half of millennials have also tried marijuana, and with many in that group approaching middle age, that proportion seems unlikely to increase in future years.

As such, Gen Z’s incidence of trying marijuana will likely determine the trajectory of the trendline. If Gen Z experimentation rates are similar to their predecessors’, the percentage may soon level off. It could, however, continue to grow if Gen Z and succeeding generations try marijuana at rates above 50%.

Gallup has a shorter trend line on current marijuana smoking. That percentage has been steady near 12% in recent years. Still, nearly as many Americans today say they smoke marijuana as say they smoke cigarettes, given the long-term decline in cigarette smoking.

About the Author: News Team

Newsteam at Highly Capitalized are some of the most experienced writers in cannabis and psychedelics business & finance. We cover capital markets, finance, branding, marketing and everything important in between. Most of all, we follow the money.

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