The number of American teenagers regularly using marijuana has risen sharply since 2008, according to a national survey by The Partnership at Drugfree.org. Over one in four teens have used marijuana in the past month and 1.5 million teens smoked marijuana heavily – at least 20 times a month.
The last time regular use of marijuana use was so widespread among teens was in 1998, when past month use of marijuana was also at 27 percent. About half of all teens (47%) have tried marijuana at some point in their lives, according to the survey. The annual Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) of over 3,300 high school teens and over 800 parents was conducted in 2011.
“These findings are deeply disturbing as the increases we’re seeing in heavy, regular marijuana use among high school students can spell real trouble for these teens later on,” said Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org. “Heavy use of marijuana – particularly beginning in adolescence – brings the risk of serious problems and our data show it is linked to involvement with alcohol and other drugs as well.”
Heavy users of marijuana are significantly more likely to use cocaine, crack and Ecstasy, and to abuse cough and cold medicines and prescription pain relievers. About 10 percent of all teens have abused the painkillers Vicodin or OxyContin.
The PATS survey also found that an increasing number of parents report misusing or abusing prescription medications themselves. About one in six parents (15%) say they’ve used a medication not prescribed for them at least once in the past year.
While social disapproval of marijuana among teens remains relatively high (61% of teens disapprove of their peers using marijuana), the PATS survey also found an erosion of anti-marijuana attitudes. Only about half of teens (51%) say they see “great risk” in using marijuana, down significantly from 61% in 2005.
“We believe that this decline in perceived risk has played an important role in the increases in teen use of marijuana, as it has done in the past. The fact that perceived risk is still falling portends a further increase in use,” says Professor Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the nationwide Monitoring the Future study conducted at the University of Michigan.
Fifty-two percent of Hispanic teenagers reported using illicit drugs in the past year, compared to 42% of African American and 39% of white teens. Hispanic teens are also far more likely to have used prescription medicine, Ecstasy, cocaine or crack to get high. Overall drug use by Hispanic teens has risen 20% since 2008.
Half of Hispanic teens reported smoking marijuana in the past year, compared to 40% of black and 35% of white teens.
“The latest findings showing an increase in marijuana use among teens is unsettling and should serve as a wake-up call to everyone in a position to prevent unhealthy behavior,” said Dennis White, president and CEO of MetLife Foundation, which funded the PATS study. “While it may be difficult to clearly understand just how dangerous marijuana use can be for teens, it is imperative that we all pay attention to the warning signs and intervene anyway we can.”