Sixty percent of 12th-graders do not view regular marijuana use as harmful, according to the findings of a survey released Wednesday.
The statistic is part of the 2013 Monitoring the Future survey published by the National Institutes of Health, which shows high rates of marijuana use and decreases in the abuse of pain relievers and synthetic drugs.
The survey, which measures drug use in the nation’s eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders, found the percentage of high schoolers who see great risk from being regular marijuana users has dropped dramatically during the past 10 years.
NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D., said levels of THC — the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — have risen from 3.75 percent in 1995 to an average of 15 percent in today’s marijuana cigarettes.
“Daily use today can have stronger effects on a developing teen brain than it did 10 or 20 years ago,” Volkow said via a news release.
Survey authors stated the change in attitude is reflected in continued high rates of marijuana use in all three grades, and it could predict higher use in the future. Past survey data has shown an association between softening attitudes and increased marijuana use.
The survey found 39.5 percent of high school seniros view regular marijuana use as harmful, down from last year’s rate of 44.1 percent. It is considerably lower than rates from the last two decades.
Furthermore, nearly 23 percent of seniors indicated they smoked marijuana during the previous month; the survey was conducted Oct. 3-6. Eighteen percent of 10th-graders indicated they used marijuana during the same period. And more than 12 percent of eighth-graders say they used marijuana during the past year.
“We should be extremely concerned that 12 percent of 13- to 14-year-olds are using marijuana,” Volkow said. “The children whose experimentation leads to regular use are setting themselves up for declines in IQ and diminished ability for success in life.”
The survey found continued abuse of Adderall, commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, with 7.4 percent of seniors reporting taking it for non-medical reasons in the past year.
Only 2.3 percent of seniors report abuse of Ritalin, another ADHD medication. Abuse of the pain reliever Vicodin has shown a marked decrease in the last 10 years, now measured at 5.3 percent for high school seniors, compared to 10.5 percent in 2003.
Past year use of K2 or Spice, names for synthetic drugs that mimic marijuana, dropped to 7.9 percent among high school seniors from 11.3 percent last year.
An increasing number of states have legalized the recreational or medical use of marijuana including Colorado and Washington in 2012. In October, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said pot should be legal in his state, where supporters want a statewide referendum in 2014 to legalize the drug.
For the first time, a majority of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. In October, Gallup released the results of a survey which found that 58 percent of Americans say the drug should be legalized; in 1969, 12 percent of Americans favored legalization.
The survey found 35 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Independents favor legalizing marijuana use. So do 67 percent of Americans ages 18-29.
Studies tell a different story.
In May 2009, analysis from the National Institute on Drug Abuse funded the University of Mississippi’s Potency Monitoring Project found marijuana potency levels in the U.S. are the highest reported since scientific analysis of the drug began. The average amount of THC in seized samples has reached 15.1 percent, compared to slightly less than 4 percent in 1983.
Volkow has said the risk of addiction to marijuana rises from about 1 in 11 overall to 1 in 6 for those who start using the drug in their teens; it is even higher among daily smokers.
In August 2012, a major study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found long-term marijuana use started in the teen years has a negative effect on intellectual function.
Even after stopping marijuana use, neuropsychological deficits were never recovered among those who began smoking during their teen years.
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