Teen Marijuana, Ecstasy Use Up

More teens are smoking marijuana and using ecstasy than they were last year, according to a report released today (Dec. 14).

Fueled by increases in marijuana use, the rate of eighth-graders saying they have used an illicit drug in the past year jumped to 16 percent, up from last year's 14.5 percent, with daily marijuana use up in all grades surveyed, the researchers found. [Related: Fake Weed Causing Hallucinations in Teens]

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the findings are disappointing regarding upward trends found. "Mixed messages about drug legalization, particularly marijuana, may be to blame. Such messages certainly don't help parents who are trying to prevent kids from using drugs," Kerlikowske said in a statement. 

The results are part of the Monitoring the Future Survey, an annual series of classroom surveys of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders conducted by a team of social scientists at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health.  

In 2010, more than 46,000 eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-graders who were enrolled in nearly 400 secondary public and private schools participated in the study.

Daily marijuana use increased among all grades studied from 2009 to 2010, with use among seniors (at 6.1 percent) at its highest since the early 1980s. One possible explanation for the resurgence in marijuana use is that in recent years fewer teens report seeing much danger associated with its use, even with regular use, the researchers report. Possibly as a result, fewer teens have shown disapproval of marijuana use over the past two or three years. Both perceived risk and disapproval continued to decline in all three grades this year, the team said.

While seniors' cigarette-smoking declined from last year, their pot-smoking went up, with about 21 percent saying they'd used marijuana in the past 30 days and 19.2 percent indicated they'd smoked cigarettes this year.

After marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter drugs accounted for most of the top drugs abused by 12th-graders in the past year.

And after several years of decline due to concerns about health dangers, current and past-year use of ecstasy has risen among some students, increasing from 1.3 percent to 2.4 percent for eighth-graders and from 3.7 percent to 4.7 percent among 10th-graders between 2009 and 2010.

"There may well be a generational forgetting of the dangers of ecstasy as newer cohorts of youth enter adolescence," said Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the study. "They have heard less about the dangers of the drug than did their predecessors, because they were quite young when the original ecstasy epidemic occurred." Consistent with this notion, perceived risk is now considerably lower among the younger teens than the older ones, the report showed.

Meanwhile, booze seems to continue falling out of favor among high-school seniors, declining from nearly 44 percent to 41 percent between 2009 and 2010. Binge-drinking, considered downing five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks, also declined among seniors – from 25.2 to 23.2 percent over the past year.

Live Science Staff
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