One in five high school seniors report having vaped marijuana in the past year, according to new federal survey results that underscore the growing popularity of vaping among teenagers.

“The fact that such a relatively high rate of teenagers are vaping marijuana is very worrisome,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which published preliminary results Wednesday from the annual “Monitoring the Future” survey. The survey polls eighth, 10th, and 12th grade students from across the country about their drug and alcohol consumption.

The report is the latest in a string of studies that detail the widespread use of e-cigarette and vaping products among teens, fueling concern among public health officials who say vaping marijuana or nicotine could lead to long-term health harms. A study published in September, based on the same survey, reported high rates of nicotine vaping among teens.

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It also comes as health officials continue to grapple with an outbreak of serious lung illnesses tied to vaping, which have sickened 2,409 people and been linked to 52 deaths. Many of the cases have been in people who vaped THC, the ingredient that gives marijuana its high. Health officials have identified vitamin E acetate — used as an additive or thickening agent in some vaping products— as a potential culprit, but have said it is too soon to rule out other sources of the outbreak.

Megan Thielking/STAT Source: Trends in Reported Marijuana Vaping among U.S. Adolescents, 2017-2019, JAMA.

The percent of high school seniors who said they’d vaped marijuana in the past month nearly doubled over the past year — jumping from 7.5% in 2018 to 14% in 2019. It was the second-largest annual jump seen for any substance since the survey began in 1975.

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The most common reason young people cited for vaping: to see what it was like, the response from more than 60% of high school seniors. Many students also said they vaped to relax, because they liked the flavors, because they were bored, or to get high.

Megan Thielking/STAT Source: Trends in Reported Marijuana Vaping among U.S. Adolescents, 2017-2019, JAMA.

The 2019 survey was also the first to ask adolescents specifically about whether they vaped marijuana daily — which 3.5% of 12th graders, 3% of 10th graders, and 0.8% of eighth graders said they did.

And after staying relatively stable in recent years, the rate of adolescents who said they used marijuana daily — in any form — has started to creep up among eighth and 10th graders. Volkow said the growing popularity of vaping is likely, in part, to blame for the uptick in daily marijuana use.

“Overall, we had more or less stabilized the use of marijuana, and now we’re seeing these very steep rises,” Volkow said.

Megan Thielking/STAT Source: Monitoring the Future survey, 2011-2019.

Volkow said there are several policy changes that could help to curb youth vaping, including banning e-cigarette sales to anyone under age 21 and hitting retailers who sell to underage customers with hefty fines. She also said that taxing vaping products in the same way traditional cigarettes are taxed could make a significant impact.

“If we can make vaping devices more expensive, you will see a reduction of vaping among teenagers,” Volkow said.

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