As marijuana legalization spreads, American teens are drinking less booze, popping fewer pills, smoking less tobacco and toking less marijuana, researchers reported Tuesday.
You read that correctly. Despite the fear-mongering that legalizing marijuana would make teen use soar, data suggests just the opposite. Use of cannabis dipped among 8th- and 10th-graders. For high school seniors, use is roughly flat, according to the annual Monitoring the Future survey of American teens.
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Marijuana use in the past month among eighth graders dropped in 2016 to 5.4 percent, from 6.5 percent in 2015. Daily use among eighth graders dropped in 2016 to 0.7 percent from 1.1 percent in 2015.
The survey also shows that there continues to be a higher rate of marijuana use among 12th graders in states with medical marijuana laws, compared to states without them. But the data also reflects previous research that has suggested that these differences precede enactment of medical marijuana laws.
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“We’ve always argued that taking marijuana out of the unregulated criminal market and putting sales into the hands of responsible retailers would actually make it harder for young people to get,” said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group.
“The new data bear this out, and it’s just common sense. Under legalization, businesses have every incentive to follow the rules and make sure their customers are of legal age lest they lose their lucrative licenses. Conversely, black market dealers don’t care about the IDs in their customers wallets; they only care about the money in there,” Angell added.
The findings have stumped those that have warned against legalization.
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“I don’t have an explanation. This is somewhat surprising,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which commissions the annual survey. “We had predicted based on the changes in legalization, culture in the U.S. as well as decreasing perceptions among teenagers that marijuana was harmful that [accessibility and use] would go up. But it hasn’t gone up,” she says.
Other highlights from the 2016 survey:
Illegal and Illicit Drugs
- Illicit Drugs other than Marijuana: Past year rates are the lowest in the history of the survey in all three grades. For example, 14.3 percent of 12th graders say they used an illicit drug (other than marijuana) compared to its recent peak of 17.8 percent in 2013.
- Marijuana-Past year use: Past year marijuana use among eighth graders dropped significantly to 9.4 percent in 2016, from 11.8 percent last year. Past year rates were somewhat stable for sophomores at 23.9 percent, and for seniors at 35.6 percent when compared to last year. However, past year marijuana use has dropped in the last five years among eighth and 10th graders.
- Marijuana-Daily use: Daily rates among 10th and 12thgraders remained relatively stable at 2.5 percent and 6 percent for the past few years.
- Synthetic Cannabinoids: Past year “synthetic marijuana” (K2/Spice) use among 10th and 12th graders dropped significantly from last year. For example, the rate for seniors fell to 3.5 percent compared to 5.2 percent in 2015, with a dramatic drop from its peak of 11.4 percent the first year it was measured in 2011.
- Cocaine: Past year cocaine use was down among 10thgraders to 1.3 percent from 1.8 percent last year. Cocaine use hit its peak in this measure at 4.9 percent in 1999.
- MDMA (Ecstasy or “Molly”): Past year use is down among eighth graders to 1 percent, from last year’s 1.4 percent. MDMA use is at its lowest point for all three grades in the history of the MTF survey.
- Heroin: Heroin rates remain low with teens still in school. High school seniors report past year use of heroin (with a needle) at 0.3 percent, which remains unchanged from last year. In the history of the survey, heroin (with a needle) rates have never been higher than 0.7 percent among 12thgraders, as seen in 2010.
- Attitudes and Availability: Attitudes towards marijuana use have softened, but perception of harm is not necessarily linked to rates of use. For example, 44 percent of 10th graders perceive regular marijuana smoking as harmful (“great risk”), but only 2.5 percent of them used marijuana daily in 2016. This compares to a decade ago (2006) when 64.9 percent of 10th graders perceived marijuana as harmful and 2.8 percent of them used it daily. The number of eighth graders who say marijuana is easy to get is at its lowest in the history of the survey, at 34.6 percent.
- Daily Smoking: The 2016 daily smoking rates for high school seniors was 4.8 percent compared to 22.2 percent two decades ago (1996). For 10th graders, the 2016 daily smoking rate is 1.9 percent, compared to 18.3 percent in 1996.
- E-Cigarettes (Vaporizers): The rate for e-cigarettes among high school seniors dropped to 12.4 percent from last year’s 16.2 percent. Of note: only 24.9 percent of 12th graders report that their e-cigarettes contained nicotine (the addictive ingredient in tobacco) the last time they used, with 62.8 percent claiming they contain “just flavoring.
- Past year use: More than half (55.6 percent) of 12thgraders report having used alcohol in the past year, compared to the peak rate of about 75 percent in 1997. Thirty-eight percent of 10th graders and 17.6 percent of eighth graders report past year use, compared to the peaks of 65.3 percent in 2000 among 10th graders and 46.8 percent in 1994 among eighth graders.
- Binge drinking: Among eighth graders, binge drinking (described as five or more drinks in a row in the last two weeks) continues to significantly decline, now at only 3.4 percent, the lowest rate since the survey began asking about it in 1991, down from a peak of 13.3 percent in 1996. Binge drinking among high school seniors is down to 15.5 percent, half its peak of 31.5 percent in 1998.
- Attitudes: Just over 71 percent of 10th graders think it is easy to get alcohol, compared to last year’s rate of 74.9 percent, and down from 90.4 percent two decades ago.
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