50 years ago, researchers thought Americans outgrew marijuana

Excerpt from the January 29, 1972 issue of Science News

a lady with grey hair examining some marijuana

Over the last 50 years, using marijuana has become more common among adults over age 25.

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cover of January 29, 1972 Science News

Marijuana commission finds usage high Science News, January 29, 1972

Approximately 24 million Americans have used marijuana at least one time. A national survey reports that more than 8 million are still using the drug.… Usage figures are 33 percent higher than the [National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse] had expected, but … after age 25 pot smoking falls off rapidly.


Americans’ interest in marijuana has grown over the last 50 years. Since 1972, the number of people age 12 and older in the United States who, in their lifetimes, have inhaled or ingested the drug has increased more than fivefold, to 126.5 million as of 2020, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The gain in users happened as the perceived danger of marijuana dropped over time (SN: 6/14/14, p. 16). And unlike in the 1970s, older adults are getting in on the action, though prevalence has risen among adults of all ages. Of the 49.6 million people who reported using pot in 2020, about 47 percent were ages 26 to 49, and about 24 percent were 50 or older.

Aimee Cunningham is the biomedical writer. She has a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University.

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