The use of marijuana, cocaine and other illicit drugs has increased substantially in the past several years and "dramatically" in the past two decades, the Department of Health and Human Services reported yesterday.

The proportion of persons age 18 to 25 who have used marijuana at some time in their lives jumped from 4 percent in 1962 to 60 percent in 1977 and 68 percent in 1979, according to HHS.

And since 1962, "the proportion who have tried harder drugs -- cocaine, heroin and hallucinogens -- has increased from 3 percent to 33 percent" in the 18 to 25 age group.

The findings in the latest national survey on drug abuse, based on 7,000 interviews in 1979, are viewed as significant in light of a recent HHS report that marijuana can seriously damage health, as well as affecting psychological states. This may include lung problem akin to those caused by cirarettes and fetal damage.

HHS Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris said the survey shows that "the deep concern of the American people in general and parents in particular about the rapid rise in illicit drug use over the past few years are well founded."

Marijuana -- Among persons 12 to 17 years old, 14 percent had used marijuana in 1972 but today the figure is 31 percent. Among those 18 to 25, the figure was 4 percent in 1962, 48 percent in 1972, 60 percent two years ago and 68 percent in the latest survey last year. The report noted that females are catching up with males in marijuana use and "over the next few years sex differences in marijuana use may disappear."

In the young adult group, nearly half those who had, used marijuana said they used it at least 100 times.

Cocaine -- "Second only to marijuana in its increasing popularity." The 18 to 25 group is the major age group using it: In 1972, 9 percent reported using it at some time in their lives; by 1977 the figure had jumped to 19 percent and by 1979 to 28 percent.

Heroin -- Based on self-reporting, 3.5 percent of 18 to 25 age group had used heroin, slightly down from 1972.

Other -- About one person in four in the age 18 to 25 group in 1979 had used hallucinogens (up a third since 1974), 83 percent had smoked and 95 percent used alcoholic beverages. Among persons 12 to 17, some 70 percent had used alcohol at least once, 54 percent had smoked and 7 percent had used hallucinogens.

Generally, the survey showed much lower use of all drugs and other substances among those under 18 and over 25 than in the age 18 to 25 group.