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Marijuana Use Spikes Among U.S. Teens

Rise Biggest Among Eighth Graders
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 14, 2010 -- Federal health officials say they’re alarmed by a sharp rise in marijuana use among American teens, blaming the increase on medical marijuana campaigns.

The increase is particularly stark among eighth graders, suggesting that attitudes about the risks of marijuana may be becoming more relaxed in adolescents thinking about using drugs for the first time.

The national survey shows that marijuana use in eighth, 10th, and 12th graders is up across the country. By some measures the increase over last year is 10% or more, says Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Marijuana use among teens has been on the way up over the last three years. But new data, taken from the 46,000-student “Monitoring the Future” survey, shows the increase is accelerating, particularly in younger students.

“The marijuana numbers are particularly troubling,” says Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

In all, about one in 16 high school seniors admits to daily pot use. Three percent of 10th graders and 1% of 8th graders say they smoke pot at least four days a week. Meanwhile, 24% of teens say they’ve used marijuana in the past year, up from 21.5% three years ago.

“The increases we are seeing in marijuana use in teenagers need to be taken very seriously,” Volkow says.

Those numbers coincide with other data showing teens' perception of daily marijuana use as risky has been on the decline since 2006 or 2007.

Though acknowledging that she is speculating, Volkow blames teens’ loosening attitudes and increased use on the widespread debate over medical marijuana. She says the debate may have led to a perception among teens that marijuana is “beneficial not detrimental.”

Lloyd Johnston, PhD, a University of Michigan researcher who runs the survey for the federal government, says rising marijuana use was predictable since teens now view it as less risky than they did before.

“This is something we saw coming and we think will keep coming,” he says.

The survey also reaffirms what researchers have known for years: The sharp declines in teen smoking seen from in the 1990s have ended. About one in four U.S. teens smoke and the number is not budging.

“The attitudes are not longer moving in a constructive direction and some of them are reversing,” Johnston says.

Overall, past-month illicit drug use was up between 2009 and 2010 among all age groups surveyed. About one in 10 eighth graders, 18.5% of 10th graders, and 23.8% 12th graders acknowledge using illegal drugs during the past month.

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