Teen Drug Use Declines—Not So Much for Weed

Our future adults may end up being okay after all.

The 2016 Monitoring the Future survey of teenagers’ trends and attitudes toward illicit-drug consumption is full of hope for the curtailment of teenage drug use, except when it comes to marijuana.

Conducted since 1975 under the watch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the annual survey grilled 45,473 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders from 372 public and private schools on their approval and use of dope, booze, and cigarettes.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Samuel Ball, president and CEO of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, found much within the study to encourage a sense that kids these days are just saying, “Nah, not for me.”

The proven power of online bullying might cast some shade on that hypothesis.

When it comes to cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, inhalants, and prescription opioids, for instance, the study uncovered what Volkow characterizes as “some of the lowest rates of drug use we've ever encountered in our survey.” And even in the case of marijuana, among eighth graders at least, declining usage prevails.

But once those kids hit sophomore and senior year of high school? Rates have remained about the same, with 22 percent-plus of high school seniors admitting weed use in the previous month, and 6 percent claiming to have been high every day all year long.

Volkow associates steady teen use of marijuana with increased risk of quitting school and developing a drug habit. In 2016, there has been a slightly higher statistical occurrence (38 percent over 33 percent) of regular weed use by high-school seniors in states with legal medical marijuana, a margin Volkow attributes to but does not refer to as normalization.

From CNN:

"The perception that marijuana is safe has increased among people of all ages, including teenagers," said Volkow. "In general, we have seen that the more teens felt that marijuana was harmless, the more likely they were to smoke marijuana.”

Still, she can take solace in the unprecedented numbers of kids shunning cigarettes—a fourfold reduction over the past decade—and alcohol, both or which are far more tightly linked to fatal outcomes than cannabis use.

Volkow theorizes that these reductions may be a collateral benefit of social media and Internet society, guessing that reduced real-world contact leads to a correlating reduction in peer pressure to use drugs—although the proven power of online bullying might cast some shade on that hypothesis.

Even with that bright spot, Columbia University’s Samuel Ball strikes a cautionary note with CNN:

Ball said his biggest concerns about reduced teen drug use are that "we, as a society, may feel a false sense of complacency or falsely believe that we do not need as much substance-use prevention programming in schools and communities."
"Constant vigilance to the problem of teen substance use is essential to prevent harm, addiction, crime, school failure, overdose and family heartbreak."

Thank God these kids are smart enough to stick with weed.