Prolonged use of marijuana by our nation’s students and the drug’s harmful effects were the focus of this year’s “Monitoring the Future” survey. This annual survey of students from the eighth, tenth and twelfth grades recently completed by researchers from the University of Michigan. The data was obtained from classrooms throughout the country earlier in the year and was licensed through a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The study reveals that 6.5% of high school twelfth graders smoke marijuana daily, compared to 5.1% only a few years ago. A surprising 23% admitted they had used the drug in the month before taking the survey and more than 36% confessed to using marijuana in the prior year. For tenth graders, 3.5% reported using the drug daily, 17% said they have used it within the past month, and 28% admitted using pot in the previous year. Only 1.1% of eight graders said they use the drug daily, and 6.5% of students used it within the past month. Over 11% of eight grade students admit they used the drug in the prior year.
The survey found that teenagers’ view the use of marijuana as less harmful, which is an indicator of future usage. A mere 41.7% of eighth grade students see using marijuana occasionally as harmful; 66.9% see continuous use as harmful. These are the lowest numbers since the survey started in 1991. As teenagers grow older, their idea of risk lowers. An all time low 20.6% of twelfth graders think occasional use of the drug is harmful (this is a record low since 1983), and 44.1% think continuous use is dangerous, a record low since 1979.
Another study that used data from a 38-year period revealed that heavy use of marijuana during adolescence and beyond caused an eight-point drop in IQ. Heavy users of cannabis before the age of 18, a time when the brain is not fully developed, revealed an impairment of mental functions even when usage had stopped. This research seems to mirror other studies indicating a common denominator between continuous cannabis use and neural deficiencies.
There is great concern that continuous use of cannabis is stealing many of our youth’s ability to do well in school and other areas of their life. Nora D. Volkow, M.D., NIDA Director says that THC, the primary ingredient in cannabis, lowers the ability of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that relates to memory and learning, to effectively give signals to other parts of the brain. There is also mounting evident that marijuana use by some teens can be correlated with the development of schizophrenia and other serious mental health disorders.
The Monitoring the Future study also looked at substances that can easily be obtained by teenagers because they are legal, including alcohol, tobacco, over-the-counter drugs, inhalants and prescription medication and inhalants. Many of the substances most abused by twelfth grade students are legal and accessible.
This is the first year that this survey has measured teenage use of “bath salts,” a substance which contains a stimulant that is like amphetamines. These bath salts are usually sold in paraphernalia stores. The research revealed a small use in twelfth grade students at 1.3%. Also, the study looked at the hallucinogenic herb Salvia, discovering that usage had lowered twelfth grade students, from 5.9% to 4.4%.
Nearly 46,000 students from 395 schools participated in this year’s study. Starting in 1975, this survey has measured alcohol, cigarette, and drug use in twelfth graders across the nation. In 1991 eighth and tenth grade students were added. NIDA has contributed full funding for this study since it began by a team of researchers at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, headed by Dr. Lloyd Johnston.