Age, period, and cohort effects in frequent cannabis use among US students: 1991-2018

Background and Aims

As the legal status of cannabis changes across the United States and modes of administration expand, it is important to examine the potential impact on adolescent cannabis use. This study aimed to assess changes in prevalence of frequent cannabis use in adolescents in the United States and how far this varies by age and cohort.


Analysis of Monitoring the Future, a nationally representative annual survey of 8th-, 10th- and 12th-grade students in the United States conducted from 1991 to 2018.


In-school surveys completed by US adolescents.


A total of 1 236 159 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders; 51.5% female, 59.6% non-Hispanic white, 12.3% non-Hispanic black, 13.4% Hispanic and 14.7% other race/ethnicity.


Frequent cannabis use (FCU), defined as six or more occasions in the past 30 days, stratified by sex, race/ethnicity and parental education.


FCU among US adolescents increased over the study period; the peak in 2010-18 was 11.4% among 18-year-old students. This increase was best explained by both period and cohort effects. Compared with respondents in 2005, adolescents surveyed in 2018 had period effects in FCU that were 1.6 times greater. Adolescents in younger birth cohorts (those born > 1988) had a lower increase in FCU than those born prior to 1988. Results were consistent across sex, parent education and race/ethnicity, with period effects indicating increasing FCU after 2005 and cohort effects indicating a lower magnitude of increase in more recent birth cohorts. Age and parental education disparities in FCU have increased over time, whereas race/ethnicity differences have converged over time; black students were 0.67 [95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.64-0.70] times as likely to use cannabis frequently as white students from 1991 to 2000, and 1.03 (95% CI = 0.98-1.09) times as likely from 2011 to 2018 (P-value for time interaction < 0.001).


The prevalence of frequent cannabis use (FCU) increased from 1991 to 2018 among older adolescents in the United States. Racial/ethnic differences in FCU converged, whereas parental education differences have diverged.