June 30, 2016

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Survey: More teens think pot is safe

Mary MacVean | The Los Angeles Times

Fewer adolescents think smoking pot is risky than a decade ago, but the use of other drugs, including “bath salts,” ecstasy and tobacco, dropped in the same period, according to an annual nationwide survey.

The “Monitoring the Future” survey, funded by National Institute on Drug Abuse, has measured drug use and attitudes among 12th-graders for 38 years and among eighth- and 10th-graders since 1991.

For the first time, the percentage of students in all three grades who said they smoked a cigarette in the last month was under 10 percent. That compares with 16.7 percent in 2003 and 24.7 percent in 1993. And daily smoking was at 8.5 percent for seniors, 4.4 percent for sophomores and 1.8 percent for eighth-graders.

The survey reported that 39.5 percent of 12th-graders see regular marijuana use as harmful; that’s down from 44.1 percent last year, and lower than the rates from the past two decades. Those numbers are troubling to the institute because previous survey data shows an association between “softening attitudes and increased use of marijuana,” the agency said.

As for marijuana use, 6.5 percent of high school seniors said they smoked it daily in the last year, compared with 6 percent in 2003 and 2.4 percent in 1993. Nearly 23 percent of seniors said they had used pot in the month before the survey, and about 36 percent said they’d smoked it in the last year.

Among 10th-graders, 4 percent reported daily use, 18 percent reported use in the previous month and 29.8 percent in the last year. And among eighth-graders, more than 12 percent said they used it in the previous year, according to the survey.

“The number that concerns me in particular is the rate of daily or near-daily use,” said Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a part of the National Institutes of Health. “This rate is as high as we’ve seen since the early ‘80s.”

Dr. Nora Volkow, the drug abuse institute’s director, noted that in the past 20 years marijuana has gotten more potent, giving daily use “stronger effects on a developing teen brain than it did 10 or 20 years ago.”

Volkow said in a statement: “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 doesn’t give researchers information to explain why, Compton said.

“Our issue around marijuana is a gradual undermining of social disapproval and a perceived harmfulness” of its use, he said in an interview.

And it’s hard to draw conclusions from survey questions about attitudes to explain why teenagers do something.

“We can’t draw a neat line between the attitudes and the actions. What motivates an adolescent to use drugs is a variety of factors — their background, what their friends are doing and what they perceive their friends are doing,” Compton said.

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