The onerous cost of higher education has been blamed for many things — and now, it may be responsible for driving up marijuana use in unexpected ways.
In 2016, the average student lender left college with a massive $35,000 cost already on their books — about three times what their parents had to worry about when leaving university about two decades ago.
That's raised alarm bells for policy makers, who say it has a lasting effect not only on the rest of the student's lives — but also the larger economy. In 2015, for instance, the Federal Reserve found higher student loans led to fewer home owners.
Graduates hoping to pay back those loans are also likely to spend less in general — which, in turn, can lead to a slower economic growth.
But a team of analysts at investment firm Cowen had another thought: Perhaps it's driving younger Americans to go for marijuana because it gives a stronger high than alcohol.
"This shift towards higher student loan debt levels disproportionately affect millennials who are likely more price sensitive," wrote a team of Cowen analysts led by Vivien Azer in a Thursday note. "Supporting our contention that 'Buzz for Your Buck' considerations are driving substitution among this younger cohort."
The team noted that over the past seven years, cannabis usage among those between 18-25 has risen 4.6% in the U.S., while alcohol consumption has fallen 2.5%. Demand for the two items have appeared to move inversely over the past few decades, according to the firm.
Meanwhile, student debt as a proportion of overall household debt has grown to 36% — higher than credit card debt and auto loans.
Ironically, students convicted of marijuana possession become ineligible for federal student loans.