But use of marijuana is on the rise.
Rates of adolescent cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking stood at historic lows in 2011, but marijuana use trended upward, according to the 2011 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. The findings reflect the responses of 46,773 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders in 400 public and private secondary schools nationwide.
Illicit drug use by adolescents, however, has risen gradually from 2008 through 2011, driven by the increase in marijuana use over the 4-year period. One in four students surveyed reported past-year marijuana use in 2011, an increase of nearly 17 percent since 2007.
NIDA officials point to two worrisome findings. Daily use of marijuana rose in all three grades and, among 12th-graders, stood at its highest rate (6.6 percent) in 30 years. In addition, the perception of harm associated with marijuana use declined in all three grades—an indication that use is likely to continue to rise.
Questions on synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 and spice, were added to the survey in 2011, allowing researchers to quantify the growing popularity of products called herbal mixtures—plant materials sprayed with synthetic chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana. In the survey, 11.4 percent of high school seniors said they had used synthetic marijuana in the past year.
This rate is “very high and unexpected” given that synthetic marijuana is a new drug, says NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. “The students’ willingness to experiment at such a high level with a drug for which there is not much experience underlies the urgency of addressing this problem so that we can prevent further escalation,” she adds.
Poison control centers across the nation received 5,741 calls pertaining to synthetic marijuana in the first 10 months of 2011, nearly twice the number of calls received in all of 2010.
Last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration added five of the chemicals used in synthetic marijuana to its list of controlled substances, making it illegal to possess or sell them. The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation to ban the sale of synthetic marijuana in 2011; a similar bill is pending in the U.S. Senate. At least 18 states have banned the sale of synthetic marijuana.
“Next year’s survey results should tell us a lot more about how successful these new control efforts are,” says Dr. Lloyd Johnston of the University of Michigan, lead investigator of the survey.
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