Teen Attitudes About Marijuana are Changing

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Good news! According to the 2014 Monitoring the Future survey – by the University of Michigan and the National Institute on Drug Abuse – teen use of drugs and attitudes towards them show promising results. Teen substance use is continuing to show a downward trend and that’s reason to celebrate!

...American youth in grades 8, 10, and 12 indicated that they are drinking less alcohol, smoking fewer cigarettes, taking less prescription pain relievers...-Raychelle Lohmann

According to the survey, American youth in grades 8, 10, and 12 indicated that they are drinking less alcohol, smoking fewer cigarettes, taking less prescription pain relievers, not inhaling as many chemicals and not smoking or taking as many synthetic drugs. And despite the legalization of marijuana in some states, teens are not reporting using it more. In fact, teen marijuana use has remained relatively stable over the past several years, but there was an ever so slight decline this past year.

Each year drug trends among American teens are assessed by the Monitoring the Future survey, with results released to the public in December. The survey is the largest of its kind and examines the behaviors, attitudes, and values of secondary school students, college students, and young adults. This past year students in grades 8, 10, and 12 responded to questions pertaining to their attitude about drugs and whether or not they use them.

Here is a categorical breakdown of the survey findings:

  • Illicit Drugs

The overall use of illicit drugs is down. Illicit drugs are legally and illegally produced substances, such as narcotics, stimulants, depressants, cannabis, and hallucinogens. The use of these drugs peaked for all grade levels in 1997 at 34.1 percent, and dropped last year to 27.2 percent. A noteworthy trend.

  • Alcohol

Alcohol use among teens is declining! Within the past month 9 percent (8th), 23.5 percent (10th), and 37.4 percent 12th graders reported consuming alcohol. Compare that to what teens reported in 2009: 14.9 percent (8th), 30.4 percent (10th) and 43.5 percent (12th). On another positive note, not only has alcohol consumption decreased, but teens who do drink aren't getting behind the wheel as much as they did in the past. So, less teens report drinking and less teens report drinking and driving, now that's a trend we want to continue!

  • Tobacco and E-Cigarettes

The good news - cigarette smoking by teens continues to decline and is at the lowest rate in the survey's history! In regards to smoking 1.4 percent (8th), 3.2 percent (10th), and 6.7 percent (12th) reported smoking daily. Compare that to 2.7 percent (8th), 6.3 percent (10th), and 11.2 percent (12th) in 2009.

The bad news - other forms of tobacco are catching teens’ attention, such as hookah; which teens are reporting smoking more. Hookah is a water pipe used to smoke specially made tobacco that comes in different flavors, such as apple, chocolate and watermelon. Teens may be misled to thinking that hookah is safer than cigarettes, but just like cigarettes the smoke contains toxic carcinogens. Also, hookah smokers may inhale more smoke than cigarette smokers do because they take in a large amount of smoke during a smoking session.

According to a study just published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the exposure to formaldehyde from e-cigs, could be 5 to 15 times higher than from smoking cigarettes alone.-Raychelle Lohmann

Another form of smoking that has caught teen attention is e-cigarettes (e-cigs). The use of e-cigs is on the rise with the teen population. Unfortunately, there are limited studies on the adverse health effects of vaping (the process of inhaling the vapor of an e-cig), but the studies that have been published are showing there are dangers associated with e-cigs. A recent study showed that vaping contaminates the lungs with toxic chemicals and may make antibiotic-resistant bacteria harder to kill. According to a study just published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the exposure to formaldehyde from e-cigs, could be 5 to 15 times higher than from smoking cigarettes alone.

  • Marijuana

After five years of increases, marijuana use has finally started a very slow downward trend. In the past month, teens reported their use of marijuana at the following levels: 6.5 percent (8th), 16.6 percent (10th), and 21.2 percent (12th). Plus, despite legalization of the drug in some states, students in grades 8 and 10 reported that it wasn't as easy to get as in the past. Unfortunately, in comparison to other drugs, marijuana use has not experienced major drops and it continues to exceed cigarette use in all three grade levels.

Many teens reported they didn't perceive marijuana as posing a major risk to their well-being. Could this attitude shift be a result of some states legalizing the drug...?-Raychelle Lohmann

One trend the survey did pick up on was that today's teens are shifting their attitude about marijuana use. Many teens reported they didn't perceive marijuana as posing a major risk to their well-being. Could this attitude shift be a result of some states legalizing the drug, along with the heightened media coverage it has been receiving? It will be interesting to see what the future holds with marijuana use and teens.

  • Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drugs

Teen abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs has also declined. Twelfth grade students reported a significant decrease in misusing prescription drugs (including narcotics, sedatives, tranquilizers and/or amphetamines) between 2013 and 2014, from 16 percent to 14 percent. Other popular misused drugs like Adderall and Ritalin (most often prescribed for ADD/ADHD) remained relatively steady in 2014. The survey indicated that most teens get these drugs from friends or relatives. As for over-the-counter drugs, teens are reporting using them less for non-medical purposes.

  • Inhalants

The use of inhalants among 10th and 12th graders reached an all-time low in the history of the survey. Inhalant use is usually higher with younger teens, but that too has dropped with 5.3 percent reporting using inhalants in the past year, down from 8.1 percent in 2009.

What Have We Learned?

It appears that the educational efforts to reduce drug and alcohol use among young people are working. But before we celebrate our advancements there is still a large gap in people needing and receiving treatment. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2012, about 23.1 million Americans (8.9 percent) needed substance abuse treatment, but only 2.5 million people (1 percent) received treatment at a specialty facility. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done in relation to drug prevention and intervention.

We've come a long way! But, we still have a long way to go...
Related: Busting Myths About Teens and Substance Use
Photo Source: Pixabay

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