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High School Seniors Now More Likely to Smoke Pot Than Cigarettes: Survey

More kids believe marijuana isn't harmful, experts say in explaining finding

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 16, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- For the first time, more U.S. high school seniors are smoking marijuana than tobacco, a new survey shows.

Daily marijuana use remained relatively stable at 6 percent, while those seniors who said they smoked cigarettes every day dropped from 6.7 percent in 2014 to 5.5 percent, the researchers found.

The same trend has been seen on college campuses, with a recent report showing that more college students (6 percent) now smoke a joint each day than light up a cigarette (5 percent).

"While we have seen no increase in marijuana use, we continue to see deterioration in the perceived riskiness of marijuana," said Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). "That often has been a predictor of greater use of marijuana in future years."

NIDA funded the survey, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., said the perception that marijuana isn't harmful is due to several factors.

These include teens seeing it being used to treat certain medical conditions and being legalized around the country. "With the drug being legalized, parents may see it as being less harmful as well," he said. "We are definitely going to see increased marijuana use."

But Krakower said marijuana can be harmful. "Marijuana can harm thinking and memory, lower IQ and increase mental problems, especially among teens," he said. "As marijuana becomes legal, it will have to be controlled like cigarettes."

Compton noted that he has seen a great deal of positive news about drug use trends among youth.

"We are seeing a drop in the use of prescription painkillers," he said. "The numbers are way down from what they were just five years ago."

Cigarette use among teens is at the lowest levels ever, Compton said. "The news about other forms of tobacco is not as good, and remains of great concern," he said. Moreover, the use of e-cigarettes is much higher than a year ago.

The new report, which was released Dec. 16, included data from nearly 45,000 students from close to 400 public and private schools in the United States. The survey measures drug use and attitudes among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders.

"While we have seen good news in many areas, there is still a lot of work to be done," Compton said.

Highlights in the report include:

  • Use of illegal drugs other than marijuana is down among all high school students. Among high school seniors, more than 38 percent said they used an illicit drug in the past year, with 15 percent saying they used an illicit drug other than marijuana.
  • Belief that marijuana is risky continues to decline, with almost 32 percent of seniors saying it could be harmful, compared with 36 percent last year.
  • Use of synthetic marijuana is at 5.2 percent among seniors, down from 11.4 percent in 2011.
  • Use of heroin is at an all-time low at 0.3 percent for eighth-graders and 0.5 percent for 10th- and 12th-graders.
  • Use of MDMA (known as Ecstasy or Molly) and LSD is generally stable or down. In 2015, more than 3 percent of seniors said they used MDMA, compared with 5 percent in 2014.
  • Nonmedical use of Adderall, typically given to treat ADHD, remains high, at 7.5 percent among seniors.
  • Use of prescription narcotic painkillers continues to drop, with just over 4 percent of high school seniors using Vicodin, down from 10.5 percent in 2003.
  • Cigarette smoking has declined among teens. For example, tobacco use among 10th-graders has dropped nearly 55 percent in five years, going from 6.6 percent to 3 percent this year.
  • Rates of other tobacco products and e-cigarettes, while not significantly changed from 2014, remain high, with almost 20 percent of 12th-graders using hookahs, 16 percent using e-cigarettes and close to 16 percent using little cigars.
  • About twice as many boys as girls are using e-cigarettes, 21.5 percent versus almost 11 percent.
  • Alcohol use continues to decline. About 17 percent of 12th-graders report binge drinking, down from just over 19 percent last year.

More information

Visit the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse for more on teens and drugs.

SOURCES: Wilson Compton, M.D., deputy director, U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse; Scott Krakower, D.O., assistant unit chief, psychiatry, Zucker Hillside Hospital, Glen Oaks, N.Y.; Dec. 16, 2015, report, 2015 Monitoring the Future

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