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National survey shows fewer teens see marijuana use as risky

REUTERS/Anthony Bolante
Researchers and public-health officials expressed concern over a steep decline in the number of teens who perceive marijuana use as risky, saying it “portends more serious challenges in the years to come.”

An annual nationwide survey of drug use among teens released today had some encouraging results, including continued declines or statistically insignificant changes in the use of alcohol, opioids (heroin and prescription painkillers), cocaine, synthetics (K2, Spice and Bath Salts) and inhalants. Cigarette smoking was at its lowest rate since the peak year of 1997.

But researchers and public-health officials expressed concern over a steep decline in the number of teens who perceive marijuana use as risky, saying it “portends more serious challenges in the years to come.” The Monitoring the Future survey, directed by University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and funded through research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found that 39.5 percent of 12th-graders view regular marijuana use as harmful, down from last year’s rate of 44.1 percent, and considerably lower than rates from the last two decades.

“Today’s results regarding marijuana are disappointing,” said R. Gil Kerlikowske,
 director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Making matters worse, more teens are now smoking marijuana than smoke cigarettes.”

Marijuana use among teens has been drifting higher in recent years after a decade of steady decline. In 2013, the percent using once or more over the past year rose from 11.4 percent to 12.7 percent among 8th-graders, 28 percent to 29.8 percent among 10th-graders, and remained steady among 12th-graders at 36.4 percent.

In 2012, the survey added questions about where students are getting their marijuana. In states that have passed medical marijuana laws, 34 percent of 12th-graders say that one of their sources is another person’s medical marijuana prescription, and 6 percent say they get it from their own prescription.

The results suggest that “regulation schemes that have been promoted by the marijuana legalization lobby are not succeeding in preventing the diversion of marijuana into the hands of young people, as was promised to the voters,” Kerlikowske said during a telephone press conference.

The word is out

The drop in the use of synthetic marijuana among high school seniors  – from 11.3 percent last year to 7.9 this year, was the “overwhelming good news,” said Carol Falkowski, who has monitored and reported drug trends in Minnesota for more than 30 years. “It demonstrates that somehow the message has gotten out that this is dangerous and unpredictable. Anyone who has been around someone who has used it has started to see some of those adverse effects. The fact that it’s measurably dropping is very good news.”

But she too was concerned about the marijuana indicators. “The concept of risk and harm have historically been good predictors of marijuana use,” she said in a phone interview. “The more risky people think it is, the less likely they are to use it. And the more harmful people think it is, the less likely they are to use it.”

It’s not a benign substance, Falkowski said. “It affects the parts of the brain related to memory, learning and decision-making. And those are really critical activities for maturation and cognitive, emotional and psychological development.”

Despite the year-to-year variations in teen drug use, she said, parents and others need to remember that “about half of kids are going to try an illegal drug before they get out of high school.” With that single fact, “it’s not really someone else’s child; it could just as likely be your child.” She advised parents to “talk early, talk often, and listen – don’t lecture” and let their kids know that “if they get into trouble, they are on their side.”

Declines in some use

Other results from the study showed:

  • A continued decrease in alcohol use. Among 12th-graders, 39.2 percent of seniors reported past-month use, a number that peaked in 1997 at 52.7 percent. Binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row at least once in the past two weeks) dropped for 10th-graders (from 15.6 percent to 13.7 percent).
  • A continued decrease in cigarette smoking. For the first time, the percentage of students in all three grades combined who say they smoked in the past month is below 10 percent (9.6 percent) compared with 16.7 percent 10 years ago and 24.7 percent in 1993. However, 21.4 percent of seniors reported smoking tobacco with a hookah in the past year, up from 18.3 percent in 2012.
  • A continued decrease in the commonly prescribed painkillers OxyContin and Vicodin. The 12th-graders showed a significant decrease in Vicodin use and a nonsignificant decrease in OxyContin. The lower grades did not show parallel declines in 2013 for either of these drugs, but use in both grades was well below recent peak levels. Annual prevalence rates in the three grades for OxyContin were 2.0 percent, 3.4 percent and 3.6 percent, and for Vicodin, 1.4 percent, 4.6 percent and 5.3 percent – one-quarter to one-half below what they were in recent peak years.
  • A drop in the use of K2 or Spice (synthetic marijuana) from 11.3 percent to 7.9 percent. The use of bath salts (amphetamine-like synthetics) was at 1 percent in all three grades. This corresponded with a sharp increase in the perception of risk.
  • A continued decrease in the use of cocaine and heroin, with 12th-graders at 0.6 percent – down from 1.5 percent in 2000 and down from a peak of 6.2 percent in 1999.

About the study

National samples of 40,000 to 50,000 students in three grades (8, 10 and 12) have been surveyed every year since 1991. The study was designed and is directed by a team of research professors at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and is funded through research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse – one of the National Institutes of Health.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 12/18/2013 - 02:11 pm.

    Name change

    I think this ongoing column should be renamed “reefer madness.”

    • Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/18/2013 - 05:13 pm.

      Marijuana Users Are Safer Drivers Than Non-Marijuana Users, New

      I was just going to say that!

      Here’s a little treat:

      Marijuana Users Are Safer Drivers Than Non-Marijuana Users, New Study Shows
      A new study released by United States auto insurance quote provider shows that statistically speaking, marijuana users are safer drivers than non-marijuana users.

  2. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 12/18/2013 - 03:44 pm.


    Seriously. Just legalize it and call it done. We’ve already wasted enough time, money, and lives pursuing a policy that everyone can clearly see doesn’t work.

  3. Submitted by charles thompson on 12/18/2013 - 06:02 pm.

    more pot shots

    Teen age dopers are making better cost benefit analysis, says the Nat Inst of Drug Abuse funded study.

  4. Submitted by Steve Hoffman on 12/18/2013 - 06:44 pm.

    What a surprise.

    After all the disinformation the kids have been subjected to on the subject of marijuana, it’s kind of to be expected that they’re not going to believe even the true bits (like, they shouldn’t be using it while their brains are still developing). Blame Hearst”s yellow press and all the mindless idiots who’ve kept marching to that drum since the 1930s. The kids may be young, but they’re not stupid.

  5. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/19/2013 - 08:14 am.

    More fodder for reefer madness

    While we eagerly await the next MinnPost edition of Reefer Madness, here’s some more REAL info on th subject:

    Is teen pot use really associated with long-lasting, adverse effects on memory and an increased risk of schizophrenia? The conventional media says so. But a closer examination of the scientific literature reveals that it is the mainstream media, not cannabis consumers, who are suffering from memory loss.

    Marijuana Use and Cognition

    Claims that marijuana consumption causes permanent damage to the brain and cognitive skills are hardly new. In fact, such claims have remained pervasive since the very inception of cannabis prohibition. Yet there exists little scientific data to support these persistent allegations.

    For example, a comprehensive review published in 2003 in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society assessed effects of cannabis on neurocognitive performance in nearly a dozen published studies, involving over 1,000 test subjects. Authors reported: “In conclusion, our meta-analysis of studies that have attempted to address the question of longer term neurocognitive disturbance in moderate and heavy cannabis users has failed to demonstrate a substantial, systematic, and detrimental effect of cannabis use on neuropsychological performance. It was surprising to find such few and small effects given that most of the potential biases inherent in our analyses actually increased the likelihood of finding a cannabis effect.”

    A 2012 meta-analysis of 33 separate studies by researchers at the University of Central Florida Department of Psychology similarly reported that moderate to heavy marijuana consumers failed to experience “enduring negative effects” associated with cognition. Writing in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, investigators reported that cannabis chronic consumption may be associated with “small” effects on neurocognitive abilities for limited periods of time lasting beyond the immediate hours of intoxication, but they found “no evidence of lasting effects on cognitive performance due to cannabis use” in subjects whose abstention period was at least 25 days. Authors concluded: “As hypothesized, the meta-analysis conducted on studies evaluating users after at least 25 days of abstention found no residual effects on cognitive performance… These results fail to support the idea that heavy cannabis use may result in long-term, persistent effects on neuropsychological functioning.”

  6. Submitted by Joseph Lee on 12/19/2013 - 10:04 pm.

    Hi Rob!

    I see all my old friends are on the comment board once more! No hard feelings from the last round, I really just want to educate the public.

    First, for adult pot smokers (even heavy ones), some literature suggests there are mild deficits cognitively mostly with speed in doing things but overall, functioning is pretty normal (mind you these measures are on various tests, not real life things like mistakes at work). The hypothesis posed by some is that adult pot smokers over time develop a “tolerance” of sorts to the impact of MJ. Youth articles are fairly overwhelmingly in concert in showing detriments not just in the research lab but also in real life (school drop outs, quality of life, etc). It seems that age of onset of use is predictive for all sorts of issues, not just for MJ but for all substances.

    So the armentano article is misleading. I actually have access to those reviews so I read them. Both meta-analyses have very wide age ranges (17 to 47, some studies were just adolescents). Armentano does this sleight of hand where his title says “teens” but really its data for everyone he uses. Even the authors of the second article make it explicit that the data should not be interpreted for subgroups like adolescents.

    Another article from one of the same journals he cites says there is a cognitive impact and it might even be gender specific (I think the study is too small to say that).

    The Harvard study he cites later for schizophrenia is retrospective (means not as good, much better prospective studies from Europe over a 10 year span) and is really just saying that a family history for those with schizophrenia is the main driver. But there are many types of psychosis, only the most extreme and persistent of which is called schizophrenia.

    On the psychosis matter, I have no doubt in my mind. I have probably seen over 200 kids with various psychoses on everything from DXM to NBOMe to ketamine and believe it or not MJ is always the most common culprit (symptoms are very different actually for each substance). I initially thought it was their family history of vulnerability to psychosis that drove things but I started to see many kids without such risk factors (a lesser known fact is that MJ also causes manic behaviors in a few, always mixed with psychosis, never mania alone). I have seen many cases where the psychosis resolved, then the kid returned to smoking MJ, and the psychosis came back. No misinterpreting those variables. It is a few kids out of a hundred that get psychotic, but it is hard to know who and you cannot imagine the heartache and grief of the families of these teens/ young adults. My mission is to make sure they are not marginalized in as much as a recreational adult smoker doesn’t want to go to be branded a criminal.

    Lastly, the association/ causation argument often thrown in is so hipster it is ridiculous. It’s right up there with how people use the term “false equivalency” but rarely in an accurate way. Lay people do not understand how difficult it is to actually show causality (it took decades for something obvious like cigarettes and cancer). Again, there is a fair argument that for early MJ users, the MJ use is more of a marker for that child’s risky trajectory vs MJ being the cause of the trajectory, but I think it is both.

    For health professionals, the battleground is messaging for youth, not legalization. It is possible to have a substance be legal and the use go down (see alcohol, tobacco), but no other substance in history has been perceived to be less “harmful” by youth and subsequently used less. I now recognize that messaging is important for MJ advocates as well. I believe they interpret any negative finding on MJ as a way for opponents to use it against their movement and are hence incentivized to downplay its impact. Such is the world of politics I suppose and why I abhor it.

    • Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/22/2013 - 09:25 am.

      Hi Joseph

      MJ is less harmful than most prescription medications, and is one of the most studied drugs in history. The evidence is clear that not only is MJ less harmful, but it has many medically beneficial applications. I appreciate that you as a psychiatrist want to prevent harm, but everything must be viewed in context. I have to ask, why is MinnPost on an anti-cannabis crusade? Does it have something to do with new funding for addiction?

      Despite the US government’s nearly century-long prohibition of the plant, cannabis is nonetheless one of the most investigated therapeutically active substances in history. To date, there are over 20,000 published studies or reviews in the scientific literature referencing the cannabis plant and its cannabinoids, nearly half of which were published within the last five years according to a keyword search on PubMed Central, the US government repository for peer-reviewed scientific research. Over 1,450 peer-reviewed papers were published in 2013 alone. (By contrast, a keyword search of “hydrocodone,” a commonly prescribed painkiller, yields just over 600 total references in the entire body of available scientific literature.)

      What information do these thousands of studies about cannabis provide us? For starters, they reveal that marijuana and its active constituents, known as cannabinoids, are relatively safe and effective therapeutic and/or recreational compounds. Unlike alcohol and most prescription or over-the-counter medications, cannabinoids are virtually nontoxic to health cells or organs, and they are incapable of causing the user to experience a fatal overdose. Unlike opiates or ethanol, cannabinoids are not classified as central nervous depressants and cannot cause respiratory failure. In fact, a 2008 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association reported that cannabis-based drugs were associated with virtually no elevated incidences of serious adverse side-effects in over 30 years of investigative use.

      Studies further reveal that the marijuana plant contains in excess of 60 active compounds that likely possess distinctive therapeutic properties. One recent review identified some 30 separate therapeutic properties—including anti-cancer properties, anti-diabetic properties, neuroprotection, and anti-stroke properties—influenced by cannabinoids other than THC. While not all of these effects have been replicated in clinical trials, many have.

      A recent review by researchers in Germany reported that between 2005 and 2009 there were 37 controlled studies assessing the safety and efficacy of cannabinoids, involving a total of 2,563 subjects. Most recently, a summary of FDA-approved, University of California trials assessing the safety and efficacy of inhaled cannabis in several hundred subjects concluded: “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”

    • Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/22/2013 - 09:35 am.

      You really want to study addiction?

      BTW – If you really wanted to study addiction you would focus on drugs that psychiatrists foist on patients without telling them that 1) A placebo is just as effective without the “side effects” ( SSRIs for mild to moderate depression – most of the patients who get SSRIs) and 2) That many prescriptions for psychiatrist drugs are lifetime sentences – for many patients coming off of SSRIS – regardless of the reason they were put on them in the first place – is neigh impossible.

      Psychiatrists have also been telling great lies about these LEGAL drugs, such as they are not addictive. They even invented euphemisms to hide the addiction, calling withdrawal “discontinuation effects,” and continuing to tell Americans that depression is caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals – something that was disproven years ago.

      Who’s giving patients drugs that hurt them? A study in Finland has shown that for first break schizophrenics talk and other treatments are preferable and have better outcomes than using atypical anti psychotics, which is the treatment of choice in the US, and for which the docs tell the patients they will have to take for life, despite research that shows long-term use of these drugs is detrimental to long-term health of the patient.

      Psychiatrists should get their own houses in order before they take to warning us about drugs that Americans use to self-treat, often to good effect.

      • Submitted by Joseph Lee on 12/23/2013 - 12:27 am.


        In the comment above, you are drawing blanket conclusions that are intellectually tempting (and personally gratifying perhaps in a self righteous way?) but are far too reductionistic to be true. It is always easier to believe that some established third party is working in concert, is poorly intentioned, and purposefully corrupted. I won’t reply in kind. I’ll just say that if you walked a day or two in my shoes, I think your dogmatic retorts might be humbled a bit. There is something about the complexity of personal experience that softens the rigid ideologies we hold so confidently from afar.

        Psychiatry and medicine in general are hardly without faults, historically or otherwise. Find me a profession that doesn’t have such controversy these days. On the other hand, it is always easier to be a music critic than a music maker and being good at the former does not make one adept at the latter.

        There is also a certain danger in piecing together headlines and poor metallization (assuming that those we don’t understand or don’t agree often have the worst antithetical/ personal intentions towards us) and a reliance on heuristic thinking (“natural is good!”) to construct a world more hostile than might exist.

        Read on physical dependence vs addiction. If I gave you prednisone for a condition for awhile and abruptly stopped it, you would have “withdrawal” but prednisone is not addictive. The placebo studies you mention have more to do with how pharm companies conduct research (they don’t care if they beat placebo by 1% or 20% so they recruit en masse. Even drugs like viagra have very high placebo response rates in trials, which should be impossible given the underlying condition).

        I don’t think MinnPost is on any crusade against pot. I’m certainly not. Countless numbers of people, while always in the minority, have suffered endlessly from all sorts of addictions, long before the fear of any “legal” repurcussions (60s and 70s are a great example). I just don’t want the 1 or 2 in 10 kids I see thinking they are in the other 8 or 9 because of loose messaging.

        Unfortunately, I wonder if modern journalism has caved to serving its other master (ratings/ readership), and I don’t know if the “integrity” will ever return. There is no courage nor honor in trying to time the next popular “wave” of quasi muckraking and yell out hyperboles more articulately than one’s counterpart to get Facebook likes. Many social movements in media, while they may be noble at the core (or nutty like the anti vaccine thing), are as predictable as a formula action movie – a conglomerate hive mind third person baddie, a “truth” being hidden from the masses, poster children, misdirected passion, anticlimactic ends, backlash, then amnestic transition.

        There may have been a time when journalists needed to be more skeptical than anyone else to bring the facts to light. In present day, however, everyone is already skeptical and polarized and an “expert.” I believe it is now time for journalism to create nuance and restrain the radicalism that dominates public discourse. In this context I believe Minnpost does a much better job than Alternet

  7. Submitted by Jay Dee on 01/28/2014 - 08:31 am.

    Studies are not showing increased teen use due to lenient laws.

    Realize that some of the drugs you mention that show reduced use, including tobacco, alcohol, and opiates, are LEGAL. It’s adult users did not need to be criminalized for this to happen.

    Legalizing medical cannabis does not appear to increase cannabis usage in teens:

    “Our results suggest that, in the states assessed here, MMLs have not measurably affected adolescent marijuana use in the first few years after their enactment.”
    Lynne-Landsman et al. Effects of state medical marijuana laws on adolescent marijuana use. Am J Public Health. 2013.

    “We find limited evidence of causal effects of MMLs on measures of reported marijuana use.”
    Harper et al. Do medical marijuana laws increase marijuana use? Replication study and extension. Ann Epidemiol. 2012.

    “Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana and other substances among high school students.”
    Anderson et al. Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use. IZA 2012. Br J Criminol 2010.

    Also consider that Portugal also saw teen use drop when they decriminalized.

    Thousands of peer-reviewed studies have shown the relative safety and medical efficacy of cannabis. Incriminating millions of adults who have used it safely for decades is absurd and ignorant. The continued denial of life-saving medicine to our citizens in the form of medical cannabis prohibition is almost criminal.

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