Federal Study Finds Teen Marijuana Use Up; Binge Drinking, Smoking Rates Down

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More high school seniors are current marijuana smokers than cigarette smokers, according to the national Monitoring the Future survey released Tuesday, which finds that marijuana use rose slightly while cigarette smoking fell among 12th graders in 2010. The survey, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that binge drinking rates also dropped, while misuse of prescription drugs stayed about the same.

According to the survey, 21.4% of high school seniors reported smoking marijuana at least once in the last month, compared with 19.2% who had smoked cigarettes. Daily use of marijuana rose in all three grades measured: 6.1% of high school seniors smoked marijuana daily in 2010, compared with 5.2% in 2009; daily use in 10th graders rose from 3.1% to 3.8% over the same time period, and from 1% to 1.2% in eighth graders. (More on Time.com: 7 Tips on How to Make Legalizing Marijuana Smart)

“Mixed messages about drug legalization, particularly marijuana, may be to blame. Such messages certainly don’t help parents who are trying to prevent kids from using drugs,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, in a statement. “The Obama administration is aggressively addressing the threat of drug use and its consequences through a balanced and comprehensive drug control strategy, but we need parents and other adults who influence children as full partners in teaching young people about the risks and harms associated with drug use, including marijuana.”

Not all experts agree on the impact of government drug control policies or legalization initiatives. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which has supported Proposition 19, California’s measure to legalize marijuana, says, “The evidence on marijuana use suggests that it goes up and down in cycles like other fads. The continued decline in cigarette smoking points to the efficacy of public health measures, whereas the apparent increase in marijuana use suggests that arresting 750,000 Americans each year for marijuana possession is a costly and inefficient deterrent.” (More on Time.com: 4 Reasons Binge Drinking Is a Public Health Problem)

Although marijuana use is increasing, the current rates are lower than those reported in this survey in the 1970s and early ’80s — daily marijuana use peaked with the class of 1978, 10.7% of whom reported daily marijuana smoking.

As for alcohol consumption, 23.2% of high school seniors reported binge drinking, defined as consuming five or more alcoholic beverages on a single occasion, in the past two weeks, compared to 25.2% in 2009. That number, too, is fortunately nowhere near its peak of 41.2% in 1980. (More on Time.com: Is Marijuana Addictive? It Depends How You Define Addiction)

Interestingly, despite all the attention given to the dangers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages like Four Loko, the use of flavored alcoholic beverages by high school seniors fell from 53.4% in 2009 to 47.9% in 2010.

Misuse of prescription painkillers remained stable among teens, with 3.6% of 12th graders reporting having used a narcotic other than heroin in the last month. Two thirds of teens reported getting these drugs from a source other than a doctor, typically obtaining them for free from a friend or family member. The percentage who misused their own prescription fell from 40.2% in 2007-08 to 32.5% in 2009-10. (More on Time.com: See photos of cannabis conventions)

The Monitoring the Future Survey is conducted annually and includes 46,482 students from 396 public schools.

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