While the percentage of 12th graders who said they smoked marijuana daily did not change much from last year — jumping from 5.8 percent to six — the number of daily cigarette smokers dropped from 6.7 percent to 5.5 percent. Among sophomores, daily use of cigarettes and marijuana was at three percent.
Despite this shift, the survey found that there was no significant increase in marijuana use among teens, though it did note teens continue to be less concerned about the drug’s potential harm or risk.
The change has more to do with the rapid decline of cigarette smoking among teens, which has dropped significantly over the past five years. Since 2010, for instance, the daily smoking rate among 10th graders has fallen 55 percent. Anti-smoking campaigns geared towards teens are a major contributor to this drop, according to NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow, but she also noted that many are simply using other products, like e-cigarettes.
Dr. Volkow also expressed concern over the stable, but high number of adolescent marijuana smokers due to preliminary studies that show the drug can disrupt the wiring process between neurons in a still-developing brain. This issue is being further explored in a new NIH study launched this fall that will track 10,000 children as they transition into adulthood.
Aside from pot, however, usage rates for illicit drugs among teens is down almost across the board. “We cannot be complacent because if you look at the rates of drug use, legal and illegal, by teenagers in our country, they are still among the highest in the world,” Dr. Volkow said. “We still have a lot to do in terms of prevention for drug use, and particularly in adolescents whose brains are very vulnerable to the adverse effects of drugs, and they’re much more vulnerable to transition into addiction.”