NIH’s 2017 Monitoring the Future survey shows both vaping and marijuana are more popular than traditional cigarettes or pain reliever misuse.
Almost one-third of high school seniors report using some kind of vaping device in the past year. Some teens use the devices for nicotine or marijuana, while others use them for flavoring.
“We are especially concerned because the survey shows that some of the teens using these devices are first-time nicotine users,” Nora D. Volkow, MD, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a news release. “Recent research suggests that some of them could move on to regular cigarette smoking, so it is critical that we intervene with evidence-based efforts to prevent youth from using these products.”
Use of hookahs and regular cigarettes declined among high school seniors, the annual survey found. Marijuana use among high school seniors increased from 35.6 percent in 2016 to 37.1 percent in 2017, according to U.S. News & World Report.
The survey also found a decrease in high school seniors’ perceptions of the risk of using marijuana.
The survey also indicates that while opioid overdose rates remain high among adults, teens are misusing opioid pain medications less frequently than a decade ago, and are at historic lows with some of the commonly used pain medications.
In overall pain medication misuse, described as “narcotics other than heroin” in the survey, past year misuse has dropped significantly among 12th graders since its survey peak in 2004—to 4.2 percent from 9.5 percent. Interestingly, teens also think these drugs are not as easy to get as they used to be. Only 35.8 percent of 12th graders said they were easily available in the 2017 survey, compared to more than 54 percent in 2010.
The 2017 survey also confirms the recent trend that daily marijuana use has become as, or more, popular than daily cigarette smoking among teens, representing a dramatic flip in use between these two drugs since the survey began in 1975. In the past decade, daily marijuana use among 12th graders has remained relatively consistent, but daily cigarette smoking has dropped.
Inhalant use—the one category of drug use that is typically higher among younger students—is back up to 2015 levels among eighth graders, measured at 4.7 percent, compared to 3.8 percent in 2016. However, rates are still low, showing a significant decline from peak rates in 1995, when 12.8 percent of eighth graders reported using an inhalant to get high in the past year.
Overall, illicit drug use other than marijuana and inhalants, remains the lowest in the history of the survey in all three grades, with 13.3 percent of 12th graders reporting past year use, compared to 9.4 percent of 10th graders and 5.8 percent of eighth graders. These successes underscore the importance of continuing evidence-based prevention programs targeting children approaching their teenage years.
After years of steady decline, binge drinking appears to have leveled off this year, and public health researchers will be closely watching these behaviors in the coming years. However, rates are still down significantly from the survey’s peak years. Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in a row sometime in the last two weeks.