Teen drug use is largely on the decline, with one notable exception — marijuana.

Nearly 23 percent of high school seniors reported using marijuana in the past month, according to new data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institutes of Health, which collected responses as part of an annual survey of teen drug use known as “Monitoring the Future.”

The survey polled eighth, 10th, and 12th grade students from across the country about their drug and alcohol consumption.


“Now we have more teenagers smoking marijuana than cigarettes,” Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in an interview.

“If you ask if they smoke, they think you mean marijuana,” she said.

There was a significant tumble in tobacco use among teens, in keeping with the decline seen over the past two decades. In 1991 — the first year the survey collected data on cigarette smoking — nearly 11 percent of high school seniors smoked at least a half a pack a day. In 2015, just 1.8 percent of high school seniors did.

And the rate of teens reporting they’ve been drunk in the past year has also hit an all-time low. About 37 percent of 12th grade students reported being intoxicated in the past year, compared with a peak rate of 53 percent in 2001.

Volkow attributed those declines to efforts to curb alcohol and tobacco use among teens.

“There have been very, very strong prevention campaigns targeted toward teenagers,” she said, adding that those prevention campaigns “may have had an unintended consequence in reducing use of other drugs.”

One of the most surprising statistics? The relatively stable rate of heroin use. Just 0.3 percent of high school seniors reported having injected heroin in the past year, the same rate seen in 2014. Volkow said those figures caught her eye, given that heroin use among adults in the US is on the rise.

“Teenagers perceive heroin as very harmful,” she explained.

Just under 5 percent of high school seniors reported having used opioid pain relievers for non-medical reasons, down from a peak rate of 9.4 percent in 2004. The rate of non-medical use of the ADHD drug Adderall — which 6 percent of high school seniors reported using in the past year — has remained fairly stable.

Marijuana remains a major hurdle in tackling illicit drug use among adolescents, Volkow said. She expressed concern that new marijuana laws have the potential to make it easier for teenagers to try weed — opening the door for them to use other illicit substances, too.

“This is a stage of great vulnerability for drug consumption,” she said. “These policy changes influence teenagers, even though we may not be seeing it.”

Leave a Comment

Please enter your name.
Please enter a comment.

  • Following marijuana legalization, teen drug use is down in Colorado

    “State-level numbers from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that a little more than 9 percent of Colorado teens age 12 to 17 used marijuana monthly in 2015 and 2016, a statistically significant drop from the prior period.”


    • This Reason article is also guilty of distortion and draws grand conclusions out of cherry picked data. A different national survey found that past month mj use among 8-12th graders went up from 8.3% in 1991 to 14.5% in 2017.

      Data on 12th graders goes back to 1975 and shows past month use rate was 27.1% compared to 22.5% in 2016. But if you look at annual trends, it’s clear that past month mj use peaked in the late 70s at 37.1% and then steadily declined throughout the 80s to a low of 14% in 1990. Then rates increased again and were back up at 23.7% by 1997, a year after the first medical marijuana laws were passed in CA. Rates dipped briefly in the early 00s to ~19% and has been trending upward again since 2009 when the federal government announced it explicitly wouldn’t prioritize prosecuting people compliant with state laws.


    • Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States:
      Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

      “Marijuana use among adolescents aged 12 to 17 was lower in 2016 than in most years from 2009 to 2014.”

      This report was prepared for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) under Contract No. HHSS283201300001C with SAMHSA, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).


    • Medical Marijuana Hasn’t Affected Teen Pot Use: Meta-Analysis
      Feb 23, 2018

      “Medical marijuana laws have had little impact on recreational pot use among U.S. teens, according to a meta-analysis of 11 studies dating back to 1991.

      “The findings appear to debunk claims by opponents of medical marijuana that the laws have led to greater cannabis use among adolescents, wrote researcher Deborah Hasin, PhD, of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, New York City, and colleagues in the journal Addiction.”


    • From the link Angela Chase provided:

      “Annual marijuana prevalence peaked among 12th graders in 1979 at 51%, following a rise that began during the 1960s. Then use declined fairly steadily to 22% in 1992— a decline of more than half. Use resurged in the 1990s, peaking in 1996 at 8th grade and in 1997 at 10th and 12th grades. Use then declined among all three grades through 2007 or 2008, followed again by an upturn .in use in all three grades. Annual marijuana prevalence among 8th graders increased in use from 2007 to 2010, decreased slightly from 2010 to 2012, declined significantly in 2016, and leveled in 2017. Among 10th graders, use increased somewhat from 2008 to 2013 and then declined, before rising slightly in 2017. Among 12th graders, use increased from 2006 to 2011, fell some through 2015, and then increased through 2017 As shown in Table 8, daily use increased in all three grades after 2007, reaching peaks in 2011 (at 1.3% in 8th), 2013 (at 4.0% in 10th), and 2011 (at 6.6% in 12th), before declining slightly since. Daily prevalence rates in 2017 were 0.8%, 2.9%, and 5.9%, respectively, with one in seventeen 12th graders currently smoking daily.”

  • “She expressed concern that new marijuana laws have the potential to make it easier for teenagers to try weed — opening the door for them to use other illicit substances, too.”
    This statement is misleading in that it sounds intuitive, but is really not. Decriminalizing marijuana in some states and legalizing it in others may actually make it more difficult for teens who try marijuana to try other substances. To clarify, some teens will have a desire to try marijuana. If it is decriminalized or legal in their state, they will be able to get it from older friends, relatives, or through fake identification, but whatever method they use to obtain it will ultimately have obtained it mostly legally themselves. This means that the source of marijuana for teens will NOT be a source for other illicit substances. In addition to that divide, there will also be a stronger social divide: “Yeah, i tried marijuana ‘underage’, but I’m not going to try ‘illegal’ drugs,” being the mentality and reasoning.

    • It was/is illegal in Iowa and when I grew up in the late 80s it was easy to get marijuana. It is still easy, today as my kids get it illegally as I did. But they Are now exposed to other drugs from whom ever they buy it from. Legalizing it, takes it out of the dealers and make a legal store responsible for whom they sell too.

    • It’s illegal to sell marijuana to teens in all states, so teens will still need to get their weed from people who are willing to break the law by selling it to them.

    • Legal sellers of marijuana have a strong incentive to not break the law, just as with alcohol beverage sellers. The products sold legally will be purer and safer. There is no possible way to prevent all intoxicants from falling into the hands of minors. When all drugs were legal in the US, the use of opioids and marijuana was not a notorious problem.

      By overtaxing and over-regulating legal marijuana, politicians can perpetuate a thriving illicit market.

    • What I intended to write is this:

      When all drugs were legal in the US, the use of opioids and marijuana [by minors] was not a notorious problem. The overuse of opioids by adults caused some person problems, but is far more true now that opioids are not readily available, and prohibition has made a personal problem into a social problem.

A roundup of STAT’s top stories of the day in science and medicine

Privacy Policy