Cigarette smoking and alcohol use by students may have dropped during the past 12 months, but use of marijuana and the prescription stimulant Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine) rose significantly, according to results from this year’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, which is sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Now in its 37th year, the survey questioned more than 45,000 students in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades across the nation. During a press conference this morning to announce the results, it was reported that rates of alcohol use for this age group are at their lowest since the survey began.
However, 36% of high school seniors reported smoking marijuana in the previous year, and 6.5% reported smoking it daily (up from 5.1% 5 years ago). This continually increasing use also comes with the perception that the substance is not harmful.
“We are increasingly concerned that regular or daily use of marijuana is robbing many young people of their potential to achieve and excel in school or other aspects of life,” said Nora Volkow, MD, director of NIDA, in a release.
“THC, a key ingredient in marijuana, alters the ability of the hippocampus…to communicate effectively with other brain regions. In addition, we know from recent research that marijuana use that begins during adolescence can lower IQ,” added Dr. Volkow.
In its first look at so-called “bath salts,” the MTF survey showed that use by 12th graders is at a relatively low 1.3%. Any use is still troubling, though, said Dr. Volkow during the press conference. She noted that past research has shown that these substances can be addictive.
Good News, Bad News
The survey also found that use of Adderall increased (from 5.4% in 2009 to 7.6%), while use of synthetic marijuana products, including K2 and Spice, remained about the same as last year, at around 11% for seniors. But use of Salvia (the herb Salvia divinorum), Ecstasy (methylenedioxymethamphetamine [MDMA]), inhalants, and most illicit drugs (except for marijuana) dropped this year.
“These long-term declines in youth drug use in America are proof that positive social change is possible,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. However, he added that more still needs to be done.
Other findings from the MTF survey include the following:
Use of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines containing dextromethorphan held steady at 5.6% for seniors;
20% of seniors reported past-year use of small cigars, and 18.3% reported using hookah water pipes;
5-year trends showed drops in cigarette smoking in all 3 grades, including 7.1% in 2007 vs 6.1% last year for 8th graders; and
approximately 68% of 12th graders reported getting prescription pain relievers for nonmedical use from friends and family.
Although use of the opioid painkiller Vicodin (acetaminophen and hydrocodone) is down to 7.5% for seniors vs approximately 10% from 2002 to 2009, “this rate is still unacceptable,” said Dr. Volkow during the press conference.
“Now more than ever, we need parents and other adult influencers to step up and have direct conversations with young people about the importance of making healthy decisions. Their futures depend on it,” added Kerlikowske.
“We have successfully changed attitudes around alcohol, and we can do the same around other drugs.”