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    Teens Smoking Fewer Cigarettes, More Marijuana

    New Survey Also Shows a Troubling Rise in Use of Synthetic Drugs K2 and Spice
    By Rita Rubin
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

    Dec. 14, 2011 -- Fewer teens than ever are smoking cigarettes, but marijuana use has steadily increased over the past five years, according to a new nationwide survey.

    In addition, alcohol use by teens is at its lowest level in 15 years, according to the “Monitoring the Future” survey.

    In its 37th year, the annual survey polled about 47,000 eighth, 10th, and 12th graders about their use of alcohol, as well as other drugs both legal and illegal. The survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA, is conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan.

    Daily marijuana use was the highest in 30 years, NIDA Director Nora Volkow, MD, noted at a news conference. More than 6% of high school seniors reported using it every day. In addition, Volkow said, the percentage of teens who think marijuana is risky continues to decline.

    White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske blamed the increase in marijuana use partly on the growing number of states that have legalized medical marijuana.

    “We face a very difficult message as adults when we see marijuana being advertised as medicine when it has not gone through the FDA process,” Kerlikowske said at the news conference.

    K2 and Spice

    A related “problematic” issue, Volkow said, “is the emergence of synthetic cannabinoids.” The active ingredient in marijuana is one such type of compound.

    Volkow said she was surprised at the “extremely high” percentage of 12th graders who reported using the synthetic drug -- best-known by the brand names K2 and Spice -- in the previous year. The survey shows that more than 11% of 12th graders said they had used it in the past year.

    According to a prepared statement by Kerlikowske, “K2 and Spice are dangerous drugs that can cause serious harm.”

    Synthetic cannabinoids, sold in smoke shops and gas stations, circumvented the Drug Enforcement Administration because they weren’t the exact same cannabinoid found in marijuana, Lloyd Johnston, PhD, who has served as principal investigator of the survey since its inception, said at the news conference.

    In February, though, Johnston said, the compounds were added to the list of “controlled,” or tightly regulated, substances. Because the 2011 survey was conducted at around the same time, Johnston said, it’s too soon to tell whether tighter regulation of synthetic cannabinoids has led to a decline in use by teens.

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