Teens Smoking Fewer Cigarettes, But More Marijuana
Results released by this year's Monitor the Future survey by NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) have found that teens in grades 8, 10, and 12 are smoking fewer cigarettes than ever before. Cigarette use among teens is at a historic low, a very positive development. However, experts are quick to temper the enthusiasm for the new statistics with warnings that although teens are smoking fewer cigarettes, they continue to abuse tobacco in other forms, and are increasingly turning to marijuana as their drug of choice.
The percentage of teenagers smoking has declined to a historic low — for example, only 6.1% of eighth-graders smoke in 2011, compared to 21% in 1996 and 8.7 percent in 2006. Experts are encouraged by the decline, saying that fewer surveyed teens will die of smoking-related diseases in adulthood, and fewer will go on to abuse other drugs. However, when compared to dramatic declines in teenage smoking in the late 1990s, the rate of decline in smoking has slowed. And while teens may not be smoking as many cigarettes, they are continuing to abuse tobacco products in other forms: hookahs, cigars, and smokeless tobacco.
In addition, marijuana use seems to be on the rise. In the 2011 survey results, 36.4% reported marijuana use, an increase from 31.5% five years ago. The percentage of high school seniors using marijuana every day has increased to 6%, up from 5% five years ago (that's about 1 in 15 high school seniors smoking pot every day — the highest rate in 15 years). The perception that taking marijuana is not as risky a behavior as it actually is may be fueling the rise.
Even more troubling is the increase in use of synthetic marijuana, known as K2 or Spice. This "fake weed," or "herbal smoking blend," is a synthetic cannabinoid that mimics the effect of marijuana and was created to avoid drug regulations. However, K2 and Spice are dangerous drugs and may cause hallucinations, psychosis, racing heartbeat, high blood pressure, and other dangerous conditions, even more than natural marijuana. Because the synthetic cannabis products are so new, tightened regulation of the products just took effect this year, and it remains to be seen whether the ban on synthetic marijuana will result in lessened use among teens.
Experts encourage parents to speak to their children about the risks of marijuana and of synthetic forms of marijuana, saying that it is important that teenagers know how dangerous abusing marijuana can be.